Anonomoosle

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I've had a long break and started reading what you've wrote recently. I love what you've done!
You put so much detail into the description and the pictures you add are lovely. Still my favourite! :)
 

JerseyGiants88

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  • Crusader Kings II: Legacy of Rome
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Chapter 42: The Storms Between the Storms, 1601-1607

The end of the Dutch War of Independence passed almost unnoticed by most people in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Indeed, for most Italians, at least those who did not participate or had a relative fighting in the war, the period of 1595-1601, so tumultuous for much of Europe, went by with little disturbance. Aside from the brief Bohemian campaign in Lombardy in the winter of 1596 and the Protestant revolt in Arezzo in the spring and summer of 1599, moat of the peninsula remained at peace and in a state of prosperity. Tuscan merchants were barely disturbed at all during the war since their navy, along with that of their English ally, ruled the seas. The ports of Genoa, Livorno, Rimini, and Ancona remained well stocked with goods from across the world. Because of the simultaneous demand for goods from war-torn northern Europe and an influx of new commodities from the New World, Tuscan trade reached record highs in both imports and exports during the war.

For the entire six-year period that Tuscany was at war, Grand Duke Francesco I was away on campaign. The day to day administration of the Grand Duchy was left to his eldest son, Alberto, Prince of Elba and heir apparent. The Crown Prince was thirty-one years old at the war’s conclusion. Studious and soft-spoken, Alberto preferred reading, writing poetry, admiring art, and listening to music over hunting, riding, and practicing the martial arts. He was, in other words, the exact of opposite of his father. He did share with the reigning Grand Duke a deep and sincere piety and devotion to the Catholic faith. He was likewise devoted to his wife, Princess Michalina of Poland, who had borne him four daughters by 1601: eight-year-old Maria Ludovica, six-year-old Benedetta, three-year-old Camilla, and the newborn Anna Francesca. Yet the Grand Duke remained without a male heir. During his time ruling for his father, the Prince of Elba also kept the close counsel of his politically experienced and savvy mother, the Grand Duchess Ariadne of Crete.

These factors combined to lead many Florentines to begin talking, muttering, and joking about the Crown Prince. “He is captive to the counsel of foreign women,” wrote one chronicler, referring to Alberto’s Polish wife and Cretan mother. It was widely said throughout Italy that Michalina could not give birth to a male heir because her husband was too lacking in “manly virtues”. Furthermore, Alberto’s reputation was still recovering from a political crisis that took place in early 1598 when a number of aristocratic landholders in the Veneto and the Romagna began seizing farms from landed peasants whose husbands or sons were off fighting the war. Under a law dating back to the Florentine Republic, it was unlawful for the land of a man in the military service to be taken without the order of a local magistrate. Nevertheless, the aristocrats refused to return the land to the men’s families and challenged Alberto’s authority in the matter. The situation was resolved only when, after the Prince of Elba notified his father, Grand Duke Francesco I issued a proclamation from his base in France threatening to strip all titles and lands from those who refused to comply with the order. Not daring to challenge the popular and powerful Grand Duke, most of the aristocrats backed down and fell into line. The seized land was returned to its rightful owners. However, it hurt Alberto’s credibility since he failed to resolve the matter of his own accord. The defiance of the aristocracy was to remain an issue throughout the early part of Alberto’s career.

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The Land Crisis of 1598 was resolved in favor of the peasant soldiers’ families, but it hurt Alberto’s reputation

The Crown Prince did enjoy the support and favor of the Tuscan merchants and burghers, or borghesia, in Italian. Despite the war, he steered the Grand Duchy’s economy well and business throughout Italy boomed. Italian wine became, during this period, the most popular in Europe, and wine merchants did a brisk trade in ports from, northern Europe to the New World. The Tuscan colony of Santa Lucia also began to bear fruit, sending spices and sugar to Italy aboard ships of the new Caribbean fleet, a joint project between Alberto and the great colonial architect Federigo Soderini.

The Peace of Maastricht, signed in February of 1601, ended the Dutch War of Independence. Though Grand Duke Francesco I had returned to Italy with his Armata del Nord in late 1599 to put down the Arezzo Rebellion and lift the peasants’ siege of Florence, he had remained in the field with his army until the war officially ended. With the hostilities ceased, Francesco finally decided to return to Florence and resume his rule. He returned to the capital amid great pomp and celebration. The Armata del Nord were greeted as heroes and cities throughout Tuscany came out to celebrate them. The Armata del Po, led by the old General Pietro di Campoefregoso, received a similar welcome when they returned south of the Alps in May of 1601.

Many of the veterans who returned to Florence were changed men after the difficult and brutal campaigns in northern Europe. Everyone back in Italy may have carried on as normal, but they experienced all the terror and suffering that the War of Dutch Independence brought to other parts of the continent. At court, the tension was palpable between those who had been away and those who had stayed at home. Alberto, being in the latter group, was kept at arm’s distance by many of his old friends. His younger brother Giulio, considered a war hero by the Florentine populace, barely returned to court at all, preferring the quiet and solitude of his castle in Orvieto. His cousin, Alessandro, another popular figure from the war, took a tour of Italy with a group of his officers, enjoying plentiful wine, women, and merriment everywhere they went. The Grand Duke was said to have loved spending time with his soldiers much more than he did ruling, and this was likely true. He ruled only on matters that interested him, leaving much of the day to day tedium of running the Grand Duchy to Alberto. Francesco’s main political activity was sitting in on meeting of the Florentine Assembly, which he technically headed in his official capacity as Gonfaloniere of the Republic, diving into spirited debates on local political matters.

The Grand Duke still appeared to be an energetic and healthy man, despite a few wounds he’d received on campaign. Therefore, it came as a shock to the entire Grand Duchy when he failed to wake up on the morning of Thursday 17 December 1601. Despite the best efforts of his personal physician, there was nothing to be done. The fourth Grand Duke of Tuscany was dead. At the time of his passing, Francesco I was extremely popular throughout Italy. Across the land, church bells rang in mourning. To the peasants he was a fair ruler who had kept the landed aristocrats and nobles in check, most recently during the Land Crisis of 1598. For the merchants, his rule had been one marked by prosperity and the expansion of trade. For the nobility, he was the embodiment of the old chivalric values, personally leading his troops from the front. Even among Protestants he was mourned. For the time being, they seemed to forget his crackdown on their faith and remembered only the mercy he had shown the rebels who surrendered outside Florence. He was buried alongside his great ancestors like Cosimo the Elder and Girolamo I in the Medici Chapel in the Basilica of San Lorenzo on 21 December. People thronged to Florence from all over the region for the funeral and sovereigns across Europe sent messages. Even Emperor Vladimir I, the unofficial political head of Europe’s Lutherans, sent a letter of condolences. Francesco would go down into popular memory as il Guerriero, “the Warrior”.

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The death of Grand Duke Francesco I came as a shock

Francesco I left a big legacy to fill and, at that moment, it did not look like his eldest son was fit for the task. Nevertheless, Alberto dé Medici was crowned Grand Duke Alberto I on Christmas Day in the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella by Florence’s Archbishop Pietro Niccolini. From there he made the walk to the Palazzo Vecchio where the Florentine Assembly duly elected him Gonfaloniere of the Republic. On 2 January 1602, Alberto left Florence wife his wife, now sporting the title of Grand Duchess, and headed to Livorno, from which they boarded a ship to Naples. The couple arrived there on 7 January and made their way to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. There, Alberto was crowned King of Naples by the city’s Archbishop, Alfonso Gesualdo di Conza.

Naples celebrated the coronation happily. It was one of the few Italian cities where Alberto enjoyed a high level of popularity as he was fondly remembered for his work ruling the Mezzogiorno as his father’s viceroy during the period of 1592-96. However, for the new King of Naples, the party was somewhat muted by ominous rumors coming down from the north. Many nobles, it was said, opposed Alberto and wanted to see him replaced. Where this replacement was to come from, or whether there was even any real threat, remained a mystery. However, the rumors were troubling enough that Alberto cut short his visit and departed Naples for Tuscany after less than a week there, on 13 January.

Popular support for Alberto, especially among the powerful nobles of the Val Padana was not high. His own ruling council, much of it carried over from his father’s reign, did not take warmly to him either. Even in the south, with notable exception of the city of Naples itself, traditional mistrust of northern Medici rule made him less than beloved. The only areas where he enjoyed a solid base of support was within Tuscany proper, the provinces of Florence, Siena, Lucca, and Pisa. Even in these areas however, not everyone could be trusted, up to and including members of his own family.

These were very troubling times for the new Grand Duke. Never an ardent huntsman, Alberto was nevertheless a lover of nature and he would take long walks in the woods surrounding the capital to ease his mind, often with only with a pair of guards and one or two close friends. Alberto was also a voracious reader and would spend hours in the library, often staying awake late into the night. He could enjoy the tedious pages of technical manuals and ledgers just as much as a page-turning novel and the breadth of his literary taste was impressive. When he was not outdoors or in his library, he found solace in the family chapel with the counsel of his confessor, the Jesuit Father Raimondo Tolentani. In moments of extremity there would arise in the Grand Duke that tempered melancholy which had shaped the lives of his forebears with lofty elegance.

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Alberto I dé Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and King of Naples

Alberto was, despite the beliefs of his doubters, a keen political mind. He understood the importance of being informed on the movements of his potential enemies. He needed someone who could provide that for him. Luckily, the Grand Duke found his spymaster in the person of Gioacchino Farnese. Born in 1571, Farnese was the youngest brother of the Duke of Parma and perfectly situated to serve Alberto’s interests, especially when it came to the nobles of the Val Padana. He grew up dreaming of military glory and gaining the command of the armies of Tuscany, but he lost an eye then shattered his leg when his horse was shot out from under him at the Battle of Mantua during the Dutch War of Independence. Despite his limp and eye patch, Farnese was shrewd, suave, and sophisticated and able to move through the myriad social and political circles of the Grand Duchy’s nobility. For the next several decades Farnese would reliably bring Alberto accurate and timely reports on the movements and actions of domestic political actors and foreign foes alike. He became particularly good at sniffing out those Italians who spied for foreign sovereigns at the Medici court.

The most troubling and saddening rumor to reach Alberto’s ears was that his own brother, Giulio, Prince of Orvieto, was angling to take the throne from him. On several occasions, Giulio refused royal summons to come to Florence, preferring to brood in his castle at Orvieto. There, in the months since he returned to Italy with the Armata del Po, the prince had assembled around him a cadre of old war buddies, intellectuals, artists, and philosophers, not to mention erudite young women, whose company he much preferred to the cut-throat crowd that dwelled in the capital. He had left his lands only once, in October of 1601 to go to Montecatini where his childhood friend, Pantaleone Gattilusio, was recovering from serious wounds he suffered during the war. Otherwise, he remained at Orvieto, a sphynx to the outside world.

Despite having no designs on the Grand Ducal coronet, Giulio found other ways to frustrate and anger his older brother. Shortly after coming into his throne, Alberto began addressing the matter of the alliance with France. The French had been, on paper, allies of Florence for over a century, dating back to Niccoló Machiavelli’s famous trip to Paris in 1490. However, it was also true that over the previous quarter century, the two powers had found themselves on opposite sides of major wars twice. One of the brilliant achievements of Machiavelli’s career had been his ability to forge alliances with both the Valois and the Habsburgs, who were fierce rivals. Maintaining both alliances had proven an even tougher situation to manage. While the Tuscans bristled that the French had joined the Protestant side both in the War of the Religious Leagues and in the Dutch War of Independence, the French were just as upset that the Tuscans had “chosen” the Habsburgs over their own ruling dynasty both times. Nevertheless, Alberto’s diplomatic mission to Paris after the French bowed out of the war had helped heal some of the wounds and a formal alliance had been re-signed. Part of the deal between then-Crown Prince Alberto and King Louis XVII, left open-ended at the time, was that any new alliance would be sealed by a marriage between a Medici and a Valois. There was no better candidate for the job on the Tuscan side than the unmarried, second-in-line-to-the-throne Prince Giulio.

Giulio wanted no part of the marriage plot. Enjoying his isolation in the hills of southern Tuscany, surrounded only by companions whose company he enjoyed, the prince had carved out a serene existence for himself. Giulio, like his cousin Alessandro, had a well-known appetite for women. However, by early 1602, he had fallen in love with one in particular: Livia Cuordelmare. Livia was the daughter of a minor and recently ennobled family. Her grandfather, Sabir al-Din Leta, had been a galley slave then a pirate then a smuggler before becoming a captain in the Tuscan navy, a hero in the war against Venice, and finally settling down as a country gentleman in the hills outside Rimini. After being knighted by Grand Duke Francesco Stefano I, Sabir took the family name Cuordelmare, meaning “heart of the sea” in Italian. Livia entered the service of Margherita dé Medici as one of her ladies in waiting, a prestigious position. She travelled with the Princess to Vienna and later to Amsterdam, where she briefly met Prince Giulio. Livia, only seventeen at the time, had fallen deeply in love with the prince, thought it remains unclear what, if any, notice he took of her then.

After the war, Livia travelled to Orvieto and found her way into the tight-knit group of war veterans, intellectuals, and artists with whom the prince surrounded himself in his splendid isolation. Giulio first noticed her as a beauty, but learned to love her quick wit and appreciation for art and poetry. No sooner had Giulio set eyes on Livia than he realized that she, like him, was one of those beings who think of the world as a mere point of departure for their fantasies. She loved his lack of cynicism or contempt for women or fierceness when not on the field of battle and his readiness to serve, love, and rely on her for the sweetness of his days. Livia’s companionship helped heal the prince from the pain and anger which afflicted him during and after the war. By the dawn of the year 1602, Giulio had taken Livia as his exclusive lover. Then, when word reached Orvieto that his brother planned to marry him off to a French princess, Giulio reacted, rashly perhaps, by marrying Livia in the Cathedral of Orvieto on 14 February 1602. The nuptials caused a scandal throughout the Grand Duke and among the extended Medici family.

Alberto, whose piety and calculated realism allowed no room for passion and sensuality, was simultaneously baffled and outraged by his brother’s decision. He ordered that no member of the Medici family was to attend the wedding. However, Princess Margherita, never one to miss an opportunity spite her cousin the Grand Duke, dutifully made the trek to Orvieto, as did her half-brother, the “Black Prince” Alessandro along with his own wife, Vera von Wettin of Holland. The wedding served as a moment of reconciliation between the two men after their relations had grown strained late in the campaign in the Netherlands.

The scandalous wedding in Orvieto served to further tarnish Alberto’s reputation. For Giulio, at least, some measure of the scandal was offset by the romantic nature of his small, intimate wedding. More than a few songs and poems were born of the union of Giulio dé Medici and Livia Cuordelmare. On the other hand, all that was said of Alberto was that he could not manage the affairs of his own family or that he was petty, vindictive, and cruel for ruining his own brother’s wedding celebrations. It was another humiliation for the Grand Duke and not one he would easily forgive his brother for.


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Livia Cuordelmare

However, and despite Alberto’s anger, the real threat came not from Giulio but rather from their cousin, Margherita. Though she was no longer being in the line of succession, the Lady of Canossa had a strong claim to the throne as the eldest legitimate child of Grand Duke Filippo I. Furthermore, she had the ambition and political will necessary to cause troubles for the crown. Margherita, 24 years old by Alberto’s coronation, was one of the great women of the era. Though she never sat a throne, the princess was, in daring and character, the Italian answer to Maria Theresa of Austria, Mary of England, and, in later decades, Ana of Spain. Her personal distaste for Alberto and everything he stood for, combined with her magnetic personality and charm, not to mention her physical beauty, made her a figure ripe for men to admire and follow. Such a woman fills the life of those who happen to near her. She imposes a style and lends color to an epoch. But if she is left to her own judgment and relies, with her usual impetuosity, energy, and abandon, on her instincts, she fails to see how dangerous it is to openly vaunt her pride in her womanhood. She thinks she can engage in equal contest with all comers and is ready to do so without reservation. It follows that should she encounter a perceived evil enemy, she will be forced into a losing fight.

The two Medici would never see eye to eye. Margherita bristled at Alberto’s simultaneous implacable religious asceticism and his perceived weakness. She began agitating for his removal almost at once following the coronation. To match herself against the Grand Duke, who despised physical sensuality, was a perpetual and exciting challenge to her lively feminine anarchism. Initially, she supported a course of action that would have seen Alberto abdicate in favor of his younger brother, the Prince of Orvieto. It is unclear at what point she proposed the plan to Giulio, but he clearly rejected the idea. He wrote to his friend Federico Boncompagni at Ferrara, “my cousin Margherita continues to want to see me on my brother’s throne. But like you, my friend, I have no desire for politics, no desire for intrigue. I want peace and nature and serenity.”

By April of 1602, Margherita had adopted a new strategy. Toward the end of the Dutch War of Independence, and during the same visit to Amsterdam on which Livia Cuordelmare met Prince Giulio, Margherita met the dashing and ambitious Camillo Durazzo. Durazzo had been an officer in the Tuscan army and was a veteran of the Dutch War, where he distinguished himself in several battles while serving with the Armata del Po. However, upon returning to Italy he resigned his commission and took up residence with Margherita as captain of her household guards. It was rumored and widely circulated that the two were also in an intimate relationship. While in Margherita’s service, he began plotting an audacious plan. Originally from Genoa, the thirty-eight-year-old Durazzo became obsessed with certain ancient claims his family held. The House of Durazzo originated in Albania before settling in Genoa and portions of southern Italy. Through various familial entanglements, the Durazzos theoretically had claims on the Crowns of Naples, Sicily, and Jerusalem. The Princess, looking for an angle from which to overthrow her hated cousin, grasped onto this and went along. Their relationship quickly morphed from a romantic one to a political one, with the princess throwing her not insignificant political weight behind his claims.

The spark of what would come to be known as Durazzo’s Rebellion did not, however, come from its namesake’s claims to royalty. It came, rather, from the widespread anti-Medici sentiment that continued to bubble beneath the surface in the Mezzogiorno and Liguria. In addition to Margherita and Durazzo, Oreste Dibiaggio, Lamello Balla, and Marco Nitti, all powerful aristocrats from the either Genoa or the south, were among the leaders of the conspiracy. The final plan, when all the interested parties agreed to it, involved a massive partition of the Italian peninsula. By the terms of the plotters, uncovered later, all of Italy south of Rome, the historic Kingdom of Naples, was to go to Durazzo. Nitti was to become “Doge of Genoa”, with the former continental territories of the Genovese Republic going to him. How this new republic would have been received by the existing Genovese government, now making its base on the island of Corsica, remains unknown. Finally, Tuscany proper, Mantua, the Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, and the Abruzzi would go to Margherita who would be crowned “Queen of Italy.” There were some attempts by the rebels to gain the support of the anti-Medici Pope Alexander VII, but he either did not consider the revolt serious enough to lend his support to it or refused to back any plot which involved replacing one Medici with another.

The bold and audacious plan involved the mobilization of two separate rebel forces. Durazzo would command the rising in Liguria along with Nitti while Dibiaggio and Balla took charge of the southern portion of the rising. Margherita’s role was on the diplomatic side. She was tasked with convincing the nobility of the Val Padana and the Veneto to at the very least remain neutral, if not openly support her “claim”. The final piece was to secure the support of the King of Spain, Carlos I, and to have him endorse Durazzo’s claim to the Crown of Naples.

In Madrid, Carlos I took some interest in the proposal. However, he and his counselors were more interested in how Spain could use the rebellion to regain their former lost territories in southern Italy. If they sent a Spanish army to Italy, they reasoned, after whatever war was won, they could simply strong-arm Naples away from Durazzo and back into their own possession. However, in the end, King Carlos was a cautious man and rejected the notion as a flight of fancy. TO make intervention even less likely, Carlos’s principal ally, King João II of Portugal, was at war in Morocco and unwilling to join any Spanish war at the moment. This did not stop Spanish envoys in Paris and Vienna from inquiring as to whether Florence’s allies would enter a war should Spain back the rebels with troops. This gave Gioacchino Farnese’s agents in each capital a tip that something was going to occur.

On 12 March 1602, Margherita dé Medici and Camillo Durazzo departed her stronghold at Canossa and made for the town of Rapallo in the southern tip of Liguria on the border with Lucca. There, the rebel forces were scheduled to meet. On the same day, Balla and Dibiaggio headed to Benevento, where the southern rebel army was mustering. By 3 April, the Genovese rebels force numbers 25,000 men while the Neapolitan rebels assembled about 23,000. The following day, as previously agreed upon, they began marching on Genoa and Naples respectively.

To that point, everything was according to schedule. After the marches began, the two armies’ prospects began to diverge. The southern rebels progressed well, reaching the outskirts of Naples before word of their movement even reached Reggio Calabria, headquarters of the Armata del Sud. In the north however, Durazzo was hit by a heavy rain storm which made the thirty-kilometer march along the Ligurian coast, originally planned for two days, take nearly five. In that time, the Armata del Nord, based at Campi Bisenzio outside Florence, one hundred ninety-four kilometers to the southeast of Rapallo, received word of the imminent siege of Genoa. By 9 April, they were already marching north, giving the rebels little time to prepare the defenses of their siege lines. While nearly five hundred kilometers separated Reggio Calabria from Naples, there were only two hundred fifteen between Campi and Genoa. Additionally, the roads between Calabria and the Campagna were more rugged and in greater disrepair than the regularly maintained coastal road used by the Armata del Nord on its way to Genoa.

When Marco Nitti presented himself at the gates of Genoa, proclaiming his title of Doge, he was met by the city’s mayor, Severino Doria, as well as Ottaviano Nuncoli commander of the city garrison. When Nitti and Durazzo demanded that their men be let in, Doria and Nuncoli laughed at them and then shut the gates in their faces. A furious Durazzo ordered his guns to open up against the heavy walls of the port city, with no effect. To add injury to insult, one of the guns suffered a malfunction and exploded, killing three of its crew and wounding a dozen others.

By 11 April, the advanced guard of the Armata del Nord, commanded by Margherita’s childhood friend, Federico Boncompagni, spotted the Lighthouse of Genoa. The Tuscan commander presented terms to the rebel leaders, to include Margherita, promising leniency in exchange for surrender. It must have been an interesting situation for Boncompagni, whose own family was only a few decades removed from holding the Crown of Naples, now presenting terms to a man who claimed those same lands by right. By the following day, the rest of the army, commanded by General Campofregoso, was drawn up in line of battle facing the rebel siege. According to the terms presented by Boncompagni, which were written by the general, Durazzo, Nitti, and the rest had until the following day, 13 April, to decide what to answer. Margherita was perhaps swayed by seeing an old friend or frightened by the prospect of a bloody battle. She may also have thought through the situation from a tactical perspective. The rebels had a slight numerical advantage in the field, but they were a rather disorganized and haphazardly assembled group whose leaders had never commanded so large a force. Facing them was a veteran, battle hardened army under an extremely capable and experienced commander. Margherita begged Durazzo to accept the terms and throw themselves on the mercy of Alberto I. Durazzo, backed by Nitti, refused, vowing to defeat the loyalist army facing him to claim his birth right. After exhausting every argument, Princess Margherita resigned herself to the coming battle.

On the morning of 13 April, with the rebels still occupying their siege lines around Genoa, General Campofregoso sounded the attack, his guns opening on the most densely held portions of the enemy line. The initial bombardment was quickly followed by a charge of heavy horse and, as Margherita predicted, the rebel army began to crumble under the weight of the loyalist assault. A thrust of infantry to the center of the rebel line, pushing all the way to the main gates of the city, settled the matter. The rebels broke and fled. Durazzo himself was wounded trying to rally a unit of cavalry and later captured. Nitti surrendered as well. In chains, he finally got his wish of being admitted into Genoa only he was met not by cheers and jubilation, but by jeers and curses. Princess Margherita, who had decamped to a nearby hilltop with her ladies and only a token guard, was approached by a troop of Tuscan cavalry. The young commanding officer, facing a potentially awkward situation, asked the princess if she wished to surrender. Margherita, replied by declaring that, as a princess of royal birth, she would only surrender to the commanding general himself. The humorless old general, refused to honor such a request and informed the officer that if the princess refused to surrender to him she should be considered still a combatant and shot on site. The officer rode back across the field and offered the princess a compromise. If she turned herself over to his custody, he would escort her to where the general was, and she could surrender to him then. Margherita accepted this opportunity for a tactical retreat and followed the cavalrymen to the command tent, where an exasperated Campofregoso accepted her surrender.

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Camillo Durazzo was defeated and captured outside Genoa

In the south, the Armata del Sud, under the command of Carlo Cercignani, finally reached the slopes of Mount Vesuvius on 15 May, where they stopped and made camp. Despite being over a month into their siege, the rebels had failed to make much progress and the city resisted doggedly. They perhaps chose the wrong city. While Naples was the capital of the kingdom named after it, it was one of the only cities in the south which was strongly pro-Medici and pro-Alberto. The people of the city were willing to fight to remain loyal. Elsewhere, the rebels may have found lighter resistance or even people willing to open their gates to a potential alternative to the current regime. With the plot seemingly destined for failure, the rebel leaders decided to abandon their siege lines and withdraw back to Benevento where the mountainous terrain and strong fortifications gave them hope of holding off the Tuscans or, at least, reaching a favorable negotiated surrender. However, Cercignani was ready for such a course of action and as soon as his scouts reported that the rebel siege lines were being dismantled, he ordered the Armata del Sud to break camp and commence the pursuit. The Tuscan vanguard made contact with the retreating rebels the next day near the town of Marigliano, twenty-two kilometers east of Naples. Most of the rebel troops had no stomach for a fight and dropped their weapons and fled the field almost immediately. The vanguard, led by Prince Alessandro dé Medici, trapped a hard core of rebel soldiers, amongst whom were Balla and Dibiaggio. This group was attacked and destroyed with Alessandro’s now well-known ferocity. Dibiaggio was cut down by a Tuscan officer trying to fight his way through the loyalist lines while Balla was caught and then hacked to pieces by Tuscan foot soldiers while trying to bring an artillery piece to bear against the pursuers. By 8 June, the rebellion was crushed.

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The victory of the Armata del Sud at Marigliano ended Durazzo’s Rebellion

The failure of the rebellion was a huge relief for Alberto I, and was one of the first moments in which he showed resolve. All strata of society, the peasantry, the merchants, and the nobility, had been horrified by the scale and audacity of Durazzo’s Rebellion. Alberto’s competent and decisive handling of the matter earned him a marked increase in the people’s confidence. For Margherita, the rebellion was a disaster. Whatever support her claim to the throne still enjoyed prior, vanished when she took sides with a renegade like Durazzo. Her willingness to split the realm and bring war into it earned her the scorn and distrust of the population. Nevertheless, she was not finished by any means. While some elements of the court called for her execution, that option was never seriously entertained by the Grand Duke. Even though he had to personally go into battle to squash the rebellion she had helped start, Margherita still enjoyed the support of her wildly popular and powerful half-brother, Alessandro who argued stridently for leniency.

Though Alberto decreed that Margherita should be stripped of all her lands and titles save for the castle at Canossa, this was not the end of her. In the years to come, she used her still considerable wealth to invest in the Compagnia Americana, at the time still struggling with the development of the Tuscan colony on Santa Lucia. Margherita even ended up traveling to the Caribbean island and staying there for several months. Upon her return to Italy, she continued to increase her investments and expand her contacts within the powerful community of traders and merchant companies. A woman of Margherita’s talents and determination would prove hard to keep out of the picture for long.

Camillo Durazzo and many his top surviving supporters were not so lucky. They did not enjoy the blood ties to the ruling dynasty that Princess Margherita had. Instead, they were given a summary trial in the Palazzo Vecchio on 28 August 1602, where they were all found guilty in less than an hour. From there, they were stripped to their undergarments, dragged out of the Palazzo before a jeering and hostile crowd that pelted them with rocks and rotten vegetables, and marched the short way down to the banks of the Arno. There, they were hanged like common criminals. Grand Duke Alberto observed the proceedings stoically from the deck of a barge in the center of the river. Standing with him was Princess Margherita, now visibly pregnant and confined to the Palazzo Medici since her capture, forced to watch, with tears streaming down her face, as her lover and co-conspirator died. The dramatic executions of the leaders put an emphatic end to Durazzo’s Rebellion and put the rest of Italy on notice that despite his lack of military experience or soldierly attributes, the new Grand Duke was not to be trifled with.

Alberto was, however, a man who knew where his weaknesses lay, and sought to address them. The Durazzo Rebellion showed him that he lacked knowledge when it came to properly employing his armies and that caused him to become over-reliant on his field commanders, like General Campofregoso. Though he never took a great interest in military matters, he read up on the technical aspects of warfare and was meticulous about studying details of his armies, particularly when it came to logistics. Nevertheless, he recognized that he would never be able to grasp the lived realities of war the way a man who had been there and fought on campaigns could. However, many of the top field commanders in the Tuscan army were either uninterested in being a full-time minister of war, staying at the Medici court, or they did not respect Alberto enough to want to work for him. What was once considered a highly prestigious post under previous Grand Dukes had become hard to fill.

As a solution, Alberto turned to a childhood friend: Pantaleono Gattilusio. Gattilusio and his younger sister, Martina, became orphans at a young age when their father was killed in battle against the Genovese in 1580. Francesco dé Medici, still a prince at the time, took the two children in and raised them alongside his own. As they grew, the future Grand Duke provided both children with opportunities they would not have had as orphans of a declining aristocratic family. He had both children educated and secured a good marriage for Martina to a son of the powerful Bentivoglio family in Bologna and a commission in the army for Pantaleone, nicknamed Leo by his friends. However, Gattilusio’s military career was cut short when his left leg was taken off below the knee by a cannon ball fighting against the Dutch at Bruges in 1598. After a long period of recovery, he returned to court but did not quite know what to do with himself.

Alberto offered a chance to change that. Gattilusio had never held command above the battalion level, but he possessed a sharp military mind and his battlefield exploits were well known throughout the Tuscan army. He had the respect of common soldiers and high-level commanders alike. Just as importantly, he also had a strong grasp of politics, thereby making him the optimal candidate to fill the role for minister of war. On 10 September 1604, Alberto I offered the thirty-one-year-old Gattilusio the position of Minister of War of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. Seeing an opportunity to continue to influence the course of the army that he loved, Gattilusio eagerly accepted. Thus began one of the great political-military partnerships of the era.

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Pantaleone Gattilusio, Minister of War to Grand Duke Alberto I

The rebellion, and Margherita’s role in it brought up old questions about the Medici succession again. Her claim to the throne, as Filippo I’s eldest legitimate child, was passed over in favor of her uncle, Francesco. Once again, Tuscany had a Grand Duke with only female children. Francesco I’s daughter, and Alberto I’s sister, Teodora, had two sons, Giovanni and Luciano, but their potential claims caused further problems. At the moment, the heir to the throne was Giulio, as second son of Francesco. Having just survived one rebellion, the realm looked anxiously to the Medici family’s dynamics. Then, on 13 January 1603, Livia Cuordelmare gave birth to a son named Gian Gastone in Orvieto. However, strained relations between the two brothers as well as Livia’s low birth and the devout Alberto’s conviction that God would give him a male heir caused him to hesitate. Still, the prospect of further rebellion and foreign meddling emphasized the need for Medici family unity. Alberto agreed to acknowledge Gian Gastone as his official heir. Prince Giulio, his wife, and son made the journey to Florence in July of 1603. In a ceremony at Santa Maria Novella the child was blessed by Archbishop Niccolini and formally awarded the title, Prince of Elba, which had been given to the previous two Crown Princes. The final reconciliation within the Medici clan, that between Alberto and Margherita, would require a foreign policy crisis to resolve.

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Gian Gastone, son of Prince Giulio, was named Crown Prince by Grand Duke Alberto I

Alberto, however, took more interest in the wide world than he did in the execution of rebels. Along with religion and nature, Alberto dealt with his troubles by reading and thinking of the world beyond the confines of Florence and Italy. Fortunately for him, the early years of the Seventeenth Century provided an abundant set of diversions in that realm. The world was becoming more interconnected, goods from all over found their way into the markets of Florence. The importation of goods from the New World, like cocoa, tobacco, tomatoes, and other wonders brought the reality of an interconnected world home. Furthermore, Alberto could think of far flung places in a practical manner. The Grand Duchy of Tuscany was, after all, an Atlantic power now, not just a continental European one.

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The colony of Santa Lucia brought in considerable wealth to Tuscany

By the first years of the Seventeenth Century, the Tuscan colony on Santa Lucia had grown to become a self-sustaining and thriving settlement. The conflicts with the native Caribs from the early post-settlement years had died down and relations between the two sides became largely amicable. There were still moments of tension and the occasional armed clash between small groups of settlers and natives, but the brutal warfare did no re-emerge.

Not everything was perfect however. Due to the aristocratic backgrounds of many of the new colonists and the communal nature of the work load insisted upon by Governor-General Gian Carlo Butteri, progress through the first few years was inconsistent at best. Most of the colonists were happy to work though. They went to the Caribbean in search of adventure, wealth, a fresh start to life, or a combination of factors. Accordingly, for even many of the high-born arrivals, after they got the hang of the work to be done, there were few issues. By 1603, eleven years after Santa Lucia’s founding, the organizers and shareholders of the Compagnia Americana back in Italy were beginning to see return on their investments.

The primary crop on Santa Lucia was sugar, which was exploding in popularity throughout Europe. For much of the aristocratic class on the “Old Continent”, serving sugar was a way to show wealth and sophistication as much as to sweeten their foods. Previously, all sugar imported to Italy went through either Lisbon or Sevilla, but the colonization of Santa Lucia provided Tuscany with its own source of the highly valued good. The harvesting of sugar cane was grueling work and debates began both on the island and in Tuscany about the importation of slaves. Most of the island’s labor force came from those who could not afford the passage themselves. Due to the high cost of the trans-Atlantic voyages, many Italian settlers came to Santa Lucia as indentured servants. In exchange for passage, room, board, and the promise of land or money, these immigrants would agree to work for three to seven years. In the years since the colony’s founding, many of these indentured servants had come to earn their “freedom” and acquired small holdings of their own. By the early 1600s they formed a large portion of the island’s population. The most successful settlers tended to hail from the lower Po Valley. There, generations of peasants had toiled in the rice paddies that covered the region, surviving the malaria-ridden swamps. The transition to the sugar cane fields of Santa Lucia was easier for them than for many of their comrades.

The Medici had no policy on slavery, but the issue continued to grow on Santa Lucia. Even within the Tuscan mercantile community there was debate. African slaves, most of whom were bought in the slave markets of Havana and Barbados in the British West Indies or Maracaibo in Spanish New Granada and then brought to the island, had been present on Santa Lucia from the earliest days. Only a few of the wealthiest families owned them and there was no slave market on the island itself. Nevertheless, it started to become a political problem when the non-slave owning majority, especially the freed former indentured servants, started to complain about the slave holders having an unfair advantage. The island’s bishop, Augusto Falconi, and many of his priests preached against the practice as an offense to God and against the teachings of Christ. Nevertheless, Governor-General Butteri allowed the situation to continue piece-meal for the time being. Those who owned slaves were permitted to keep them while the “official” importation and sale of slaves remained prohibited. Butteri wanted to prevent the slavery matter from causing a rift among his colonists while also not angering the wealthy and powerful families who supported him.

Across the Atlantic, Alberto I chose to ignore that situation entirely. He took the position that matters internal to the colony were meant to be handled by the Governor-General, not the remote monarch. His concern with the colonial project lapsed often into more academic realms. His interest as far as the business of colonialism was concerned, lay in the creation and development of maritime law. This was a subject growing in importance throughout Europe. The Dutch jurist and philosopher Hugo Grotius published his influential work, Mare Liberum, in 1604 in response to the hardships his country endured during the Dutch War of Independence as a result of the English and Tuscan blockade.

Grotius’ argument was that the sea was free to all, and that nobody had the right to deny others access to it. That denial was particularly harmful to his own country, which traded extensively across the Atlantic and into the Indian Ocean. His declared point was to argue, “briefly and clearly that the Dutch…have the right to sail to the East”, and, also, “to engage in trade with the people there.” He called his argument the “most specific and unimpeachable axiom of the Law of Nations, called a primary rule or first principle, the spirit of which is self-evident and immutable”, namely that, “every nation is free to travel to every other nation, and to trade with it.” From this premise, Grotius argued that this self-evident and immutable right to travel and to trade required both a right of innocent passage over land and a similar right of innocent passage at sea, “whether from the point of view of navigation or of fisheries.”

When Alberto heard of the publication of Mare Liberum he immediately ordered a copy be brought to Italy from the Netherlands, translated, and printed by the Medici Press. He read the book himself and had copies sent to the heads of all the great Tuscan merchant companies with an appended letter of his own, endorsing Grotius’s message. The merchants, naturally supporting a position that would benefit them, responded almost universally with requests that the Grand Duke enact a policy that embraced the message of Mare Liberum. Within four months of reading Grotius’s book, Alberto had written his own treatise on free navigation and trade on the seas. He followed this up with an official declaration, issued in February 1605. In his “Proclamation Endorsing Freedom of the Seas,” Alberto declared that, at least in peace time, “the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and her fleets will not molest any other nation’s freedom of trade and navigation over any of the seas.” He did maintain a right to enact blockades in specific situations during war but only when militarily necessary. Finally, he proclaimed that, “Tuscany and her fleets will defend the Grand Duchy’s rights to trade across the world against all foes who seek to prohibit it.”

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The personal interest of Grand Duke Alberto I aided the development of maritime law in Italy

By the winter of 1604-05, Alberto’s attention was brought back to Italy. A particularly harsh winter led to calls for relief from the government. In particular, the families of those men who had died in the Grand Duchy’s service during the Dutch War of Independence asked for assistance. Alberto, moved by stories from peasants who came to court to plead their case, decreed on 4 November 1604 that all families who had lost a man in the war were to be granted relief from paying taxes for a period of five years. The Grand Duke had learned one lesson from knowing the history of his family: to always keep the peasantry on his good side. The combination of his genuine concern for their well being in addition to his well known piety and devotion to the Catholic faith, kept Alberto I in the good graces of the commons, no matter what his high-born contemporaries may have thought of him.

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The Tax Relief Act of 1604 helped many families get through a difficult winter

In the leadup to Durazzo’s Rebellion in 1602, the conspirators had appealed to King Carlos I of Spain for funding and support. The cautious and deliberate Carlos however, determined that the conspiracy was too fanciful and that, even with Spanish support, the plot was destined to fail and likely entangle Spain in a war not only with Tuscany but with its powerful allies in Austria and Poland as well. There were, nevertheless, many in the king’s inner circle who strongly advocated for Spanish intervention in Italy, even after Durazzo’s Rebellion fizzled out. Chief among them was the King of Spain’s own son and heir: Fernando, Prince of Asturias.

By late 1604, Carlos I’s health deteriorated and Fernando assumed a great deal of the responsibilities of ruling Spain. He immediately began exploring opportunities for re-establishing Spanish influence and control in Italy, particularly in the south. On the military side, he strengthened the Spanish presence in Sicily and rebuilt and expanded many of the forts there. On the diplomatic side, he sent delegations to all the remaining independent Italian states. Throughout Italy, Fernando found a great deal of interest in the possibility of an anti-Medici coalition. There was one problem for Fernando however: except for the Papal State and the Republic of Venice, which remained Catholic, the other independent states in Italy, Milan, Aquileia, Savoy, and Genoa were all Calvinists. For the ruling Trastámara, who had always presented themselves as champions of the Catholic Church, making common cause with the Reformed church against a Catholic power required some deft rhetorical gymnastics.

Thankfully for the Prince of Asturias, he received an enthusiastic helping hand from the best possible person: Pope Alexander VII. Pope Alexander, elected Pontiff in May of 1597, had completely reversed the course of relations between Florence and Rome. Under the “Polish Pope,” Pius II, the Medici had enjoyed a strong rapport with the Holy See and that bond was the pillar upon which the Tuscan-Polish alliance was begun. However, following Pius’s death, the Roman curia elected Cardinal Maffeo Barberini. On the personal side, the Florentine branch of the House of Barberini were historical rivals of the Medici and though the new pontiff came from the family’s Roman branch, he nevertheless carried on the familial resentment. On the political side of the matter, the newly anointed Alexander VII despised Tuscany’s dominance of the Italian peninsula and, even though Florence had gone enthusiastically into two major wars against the Protestants in 1570-75 and 1595-1601, felt that they did not do enough to counter the Reformation in Italy. How he reconciled this position with joining a coalition that included Italian Calvinists remains a mystery. Nevertheless, he gave his blessings to Fernando’s negotiations to form an anti-Medici league, dismember the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and re-establish Spanish dominance in southern Italy.

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Pope Alexander VII

In Florence reports from Gioacchino Farnese’s spies in Madrid, Milan, and Turin began to filter in with the troubling news of a gathering threat. In response, Alberto I moved to shore up the Grand Duchy’s alliances. The Grand Duke, often criticized for his reliance on the counsel of women, was to prove himself more than capable of knowing when to turn to the women in his life for political help. The first step was to heal the rift with his cousins, Margherita and her sister Benedetta, that had formed in the wake of Durazzo’s Rebellion. The two women, twenty-eight and twenty-five respectively, were strong-willed and free-spirited. As part of the agreement reached between Margherita and Grand Duke Francesco I following her renunciation of her claim to the throne, both women were promised that they would be free to marry whomever they wished in addition to being granted myriad lands, titles, and privileges. Now, Alberto needed to arrange a royal marriage with the House of Valois. The alliance with France was by far the weakest of Tuscany’s partnerships. It had only been five years since the two were on opposite sides of the Dutch War of Independence, and memories of the brutal Tuscan campaign in Languedoc as well as the capture of Paris were fresh in French minds. If Alberto called on Louis XVII of France to help Tuscany against Spain, how would he respond? Only a royal wedding could seal the deal.

Louis was already married to Anne of Scotland, daughter of King James IV. However, his younger brother, Raoul, Duke of Orléans, remained unwed. Twenty-one years old, attractive, and considered a capable military leader, Raoul presented an opportunity for a good match for the Medici. Raoul was an adventurer and, as soon as the French ambassador in Florence, Jean-Bernard Jourdan, sent word to Paris of a potential match, Raoul set off for Italy to gauge his potential future wife. When he reached Florence on 29 September 1604, he was received grandly by the Medici, with Alberto I greeting him as he entered the gates. The French prince requested to meet his proposed betrothed at once. When the two met in the Boboli Gardens of the Palazzo Pitti, Raoul was said to have been delighted. Benedetta dé Medici did not possess the fame, or infamy depending on who one spoke to, of her older sister, but she was nevertheless a smart and independent minded woman in her own right. As much as she may have liked Raoul, Benedetta possessed her own lands like her sister did, and was the Countess of Carrara in her own right. Marrying the Duke of Orléans meant moving to France and leaving behind her territory. She used this to negotiate a favorable outcome for both her and her sister. Benedetta, being a loyal and devoted sister, agreed to the wedding on the condition that all the lands and titles and incomes stripped from Margherita as punishment for her participation in Durazzo’s Rebellion be restored to her unconditionally. Alberto, needing the alliance with France secured, reluctantly agreed.

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Raoul de Valois, Duke of Orléans

Four months later, Benedetta departed Florence with a grand escort and wagonloads of jewels, gold, works of art, and other gifts, both for the King of France and the Duke of Orléans as part of one of the handsomest dowries in Europe. Prince Alessandro dé Medici commanded his half-sister’s guard for the journey. Raoul de Valois and Benedetta dé Medici were married in Paris on 10 July of 1606, cementing the Franco-Tuscan alliance once again.

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The marriage of Raoul de Valois and Benedetta dé Medici restored the Franco-Tuscan alliance

Though he may have cringed at doing it, Alberto’s reconciliation with his cousin Margherita soon paid its own dividends. While her sister went off to Paris to be married, the Lady of Canossa was dispatched to Vienna, where her old friendship with the Archduchess Maria Theresa placed her in an excellent position to keep the support of Austria in the wake of the Valois-Medici marriage.

Margherita departed Florence in the first week of May 1605 and spent two idyllic weeks on Lake Garda, enjoying the sun and weather with many other high born and well-known ladies. Then on 18 May she bade farewell to Lake Garda at Desenzano; on the 20 she was at Riva di Trento, and then passed through Bolzano and Bressanone to Innsbruck. After touching at Linz, she went on by river to Vienna, where she once more found her friend, the Archduchess, so determined to fête her that she was wearied. Margherita had been to Vienna before, in the summer and autumn of 1597, and loved the city and its ruler. The two women had continued their relationship via correspondence in the years since. Maria Theresa, who recognized in the Tuscan princess a kindred soul, warmly welcomed Margherita. She gave her Italian visitor lodging in the royal apartments and, for Margherita’s four-month sojourn in the Austrian capital, the two were inseparable. Both women were beautiful and unmarried, and the Habsburg Court, always a lively place under the rule of the Archduchess, became a veritable center of social festivity during Margherita’ time there. Suitors, singers, soldiers, and a motley assortment of characters flocked to the Hofburg Palace. Margherita, free and filled with joy once again, was very much in her element. “It is as if the years of grief and hardship have all washed away,” she wrote her friend Nicoletta Spadolini in Modena, “I cannot think of a more joyful place than Vienna nor a more gracious host than Her Highness the Archduchess.” Needless to say, Margherita’s magnetic personality proved a greater asset than even the most skilled ambassador. An impressed Samuele Ludovisi, the actual Tuscan ambassador to Vienna, reported back to Florence that, “at her mere mention of the armies of Spain or their king, every Austrian gentleman in the room will draw his sword and loudly pledge his life and honor in her defense.”

While his cousins literally and figuratively courted the French and Austrians, Alberto also had plans for his wife and mother. The Grand Duchess Michalina, who for years had begged her husband for a chance to visit her native Poland, was finally granted her wish, though with a diplomatic mission attached. The King of Poland, Stanislaw II, was the Grand Duchess’s brother and a strong supporter of the Medici cause in Italy. He admired Alberto’s piety from afar and his kingly pride was assuaged by the fact that the ascetic Grand Duke of Tuscany was never known to have kept any mistresses. Michalina received a grand welcome from her brother. The Polish-Tuscan relationship was strong, bonded by marriage and brought closer by fighting together in two major wars against the Protestants. King Stanislaw, never shy about getting into a fight, assuaged any of his sister’s concerns and pledged the full might of Polish arms in the defense of Italy. He added credibility to his pledge by securing the support of the Polish Sejm, which bristled at the Spanish Crown’s flirtation with the Italian Calvinists.

Alberto also sent his mother back to her native land. Her mission, like that entrusted to her daughter-in-law, was to ensure the loyalty of her family. Her brother, Duke Lodovico I, was as willing to aid the Medici as the King of Poland. Though the Cretans lacked the military power of France or Austria or Poland, they occupied and strategic position and their fleet was strong enough to harass Spanish shipping in the eastern Mediterranean.

When King Carlos I of Spain finally died on 23 July 1606, the Prince of Asturias was crowned King Fernando VII, and now had free reign to pursue his aggressive Italian policy. He began by replacing the more cautious of his father’s leftover counselors until he was surrounded by advisors who, like him, favored a Spanish “Reconquista” of the Mezzogiorno. Only eighteen years old, Fernando was an energetic young man who enjoyed taking personal roles in matters of state. Accordingly, only two months after his coronation, in September of 1606, he undertook a pilgrimage to Rome. Arriving on 16 September, he was greeted personally by Pope Alexander VII at St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pontiff accompanied the king on a tour of the Eternal City.

It is likely that the meeting between Fernando and Alexander hatched the so-called Della Rovere Rebellion.” The House of Della Rovere was another old Italian noble family with strong anti-Medici leanings. Their Roman branch was a mainstay within the curia and had had members elected to the papacy. They also had a branch of the family in the city of Cesena. It was there that Federico Ubaldo della Rovere, Lord of Cesena, raised his standard in revolt.

The Della Rovere Rebellion was another manifestation of the still turbulent political situation east of the Apennines. While the so-called Case Grandi, or “Big Houses”, such as the Bentivoglio or Bologna, the Malatesta of Rimini, the Montefeltro of Urbino, and the Spadolini of Modena were very loyal to the Medici, the lower houses and middling aristocrats in the smaller cities and in the countryside, were often restive. They disliked the way the Medici, who used the Case Grandi to rule over the lands of the Val Padana, showered wealth and privileges on their allies while seemingly always slapping down any attempts by the lesser families to gain wealth or influence. The most recent point of grievance was the Land Crisis of 1598, where Grand Duke Francesco I’s Edict of Restoration to the peasantry took property away from many of these very families. It was among this group that Della Rovere found his supporters.

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The concerns of the nobles of the Val Padana, the Romagna, and the Veneto set the conditions for Della Rovere’s Rebellion

By late 1606, he had gathered 22,000 men to his banner, and marched on Forli. However, poor planning and a lack of organization within the army, not to mention the clashing egos of noblemen whose mission is to gain greater prestige, reduced the effectiveness of the army. The problems began to manifest themselves almost right away. The Lord of Forli, Girolamo Sforza, had refused to join with Della Rovere and put up a stubborn resistance. The frequent raids from the city, most of which were led by Sforza himself, struck terror into the rebel host. Duke Riccardo I of Ferrara, to whom Della Rovere had turned for assistance, rebuffed him and declared his loyalty to the Medici.

Soon enough, the Armata del Nord came across the Apennines and began marching across the southern Po Valley. On 11 December the army reached Cesena. Della Rovere and his troops, sensing an impending defeat, broke off their siege and headed east for the port of Rimini. There was talk of a Spanish fleet arriving there and evacuating them. Others said that there would be a rising in the city against the Malatesta and the rebels would open the gates for them. Della Rovere, desperate to hold his army together, let the rumors swirl. They reached Rimini on 14 December, as the Armata del Nord pursued, one day’s march behind. Once the rebel army reached the port however, the truth came out. There was no rising in the city and there were no Spanish sails anywhere in sight. The reality of the situation became clear. That night, thousands deserted the rebel ranks. Those who remained, whether out of stubborn loyalty or the lack of anywhere else to go, had little hope.

On 15 December, the Armata del Nord deployed in line of battle, 22,000 strong, trapping the rebels, now down to just about 15,000 men against the sea. In addition to the numbers, the loyalist army had the edge in morale, training, and equipment. The battle was never a contest. Much like the battles of Durazzo’s Rebellion, the Battle of Rimini was a short and lopsided affair. The rebel army collapsed almost immediately. Unlike in Durazzo’s Rebellion, the Armata del Nord showed little mercy. Rebel troops were pursued into the sea and cut down or forced out to drown. Those who tried to fight were surrounded and cut to pieces. By early afternoon, the entire rebel army was either dead or fled. Della Rovere was captured and summarily sentenced to death along with several other top rebels. Girolamo Sforza, the man whose stubborn resistance had doomed the rebellion, was given the honor of taking Della Rovere’s head himself. Even after the battle was done, loyalist scouting parties searched the countryside, hunting for fleeing rebel troops and executing them whenever they found any. By 18 December the bloody matter was finished.

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The destruction of Della Rovere’s army outside Rimini ended the rebellion

As the Year 1607 dawned, Alberto I and his advisors in Florence hoped that the defeat of the Della Rovere Rebellion meant the end of a turbulent period. In the years since the Dutch War, the Grand Duchy had been marred by dynastic intrigue and rebellion. The only things holding it together were the wealth created by its trade and the might of its armies. Instead of a reprieve, both of those strengths were about to be tested. In January of 1607, the King of Spain was preparing to host a great diplomatic gathering in Sevilla. Fernando VII wanted the Crown of Naples and knew there was enough hostility against the Medici to make his desire a reality. The greatest storm yet was about to engulf Italy, and it was far from certain that Tuscany would be able to weather it.
 
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Casko

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OH MY MY!
Even now your writing is awesome as ever!
the court intrigue and rebellions led by a woman, to a foreshadowing of a great war in the peninsula again in the horizon! I simply can't wait for the future of the Medici Italy!

EDIT: Also if I may ask but have you been updating your game inbetween updates or are you still on the same version as when you started?
 

JerseyGiants88

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OH MY MY!
Even now your writing is awesome as ever!
the court intrigue and rebellions led by a woman, to a foreshadowing of a great war in the peninsula again in the horizon! I simply can't wait for the future of the Medici Italy!

EDIT: Also if I may ask but have you been updating your game inbetween updates or are you still on the same version as when you started?

Well thank you. As for the version of the game, I am working with 1.17.1, which is as far as I can update without breaking the save game file (I think). Since the "years" of these current AAR updates, I did go ahead and buy the "Conquest of Paradise" and "The Cossacks" expansions, which I was missing, so there will be new game play mechanics that come up later. But, alas, I cannot modernize my game by all that much due to the risk of the save file getting corrupted by the newer versions. If by updating you mean actually playing the game, then yes I have a bit. I am up to the 1670s in game, but that's about as far as I want to get until I catch up a bit with the AAR.
 

Idhrendur

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How lovely to get another update. Shame that the times are so turbulent.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Just wanted to provide an update to the AAR: I am working on the next update and should be finishing it up in the next couple of days. This deployment has been pretty hectic and I have not had the time to devote to writing as much as I'd hoped and the internet service has been sporadic as well. Nevertheless, I am hoping to get two updates in by the end of March. Thanks as always for reading and being patient and a special thank you to everyone who voted for Italian Ambitions for the end of the year AAR awards as well.
 

Idhrendur

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Just wanted to provide an update to the AAR: I am working on the next update and should be finishing it up in the next couple of days. This deployment has been pretty hectic and I have not had the time to devote to writing as much as I'd hoped and the internet service has been sporadic as well. Nevertheless, I am hoping to get two updates in by the end of March. Thanks as always for reading and being patient and a special thank you to everyone who voted for Italian Ambitions for the end of the year AAR awards as well.

Thanks for the information. We are, of course, plenty willing to wait for updates on an AAR as well written as this one.
 

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Thanks for the info. I have been reading this AAR for the better part of 9 months. I have loved all of it, you got me interested in Florence and de Medici, got me to love to play Tuscany in EU4and now I have finally fixed my account so you can now consider me subbed
 

JerseyGiants88

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Historical Vignette 21: Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams, 4 December 1601- 8 September 1602

Orvieto
4 December 1601

VSh6xdB.jpg


Laughter echoed off the Etruscan ruins as the sun set over the Umbrian hills, red, intense, and beautiful. A cool breeze, typical of that time of transition from fall to winter, rustled the leaves remaining on the trees. Behind the group of men and women gathered to take in the setting sun was the town of Orvieto in all its rustic, provincial splendor. All of those gathered on the hill that evening were part of the so-called “Court of Prince Giulio.” After returning to Italy with the army in May of 1601, Giulio dé Medici had settled the affairs of his regiment and then promptly moved to Orvieto. He arrived in the city in early July and quickly established his new household. He wanted it to be a place of joy and tranquility, away from the tumult of the capital and the affairs of state. He invited old friends from the army and new acquaintances among artists, singers, poets, and others of the creative classes. During the days at Orvieto there was hunting and horseback riding, falconry and walks in the woods. The nights were filled with feasts and music and dancing.

The prince himself sat among his many guests, staring off into the sunset and enjoying the smells and sounds and feel of late autumn. It was cool, but with an open fire burning and plentiful blankets the evenings were still pleasant enough. Even this late in the year, Orvieto did not get too cold. All around Giulio, men and women talked and laughed and enjoyed life. There were poets singers, soldiers, mathematicians, and all sorts of others. The prince’s court, as it was coming to be known, was as eclectic as any in Italy.

The famous old dancing master, Fabritio Caroso, just a few years shy of seventy, but nimble as ever, was showing off some moves for a group of young women. A few of the girls, inspired, got up and tried to mimic the old man’s steps, though none could match his fluidity. Their friends giggled and pointed and smiled. The pleasant sound of feminine laughter was something Giulio had sorely missed during his years campaigning through northern Italy, central Europe, and the Low Countries. Now, he heard plenty of it.

Also present were the great Bolognese artists Guido Reni and Francesco Albani, twenty-six and twenty-three respectively, who had recently taken their talents to Rome. They were on break from their work on the Farnese Palace and had come up to Orvieto for a brief visit in the hopes of gaining Giulio’s patronage in the future. They were engaged in an animated argument with the poet Alessandro Tassoni. The thirty-six-year-old Tassoni, a native of Modena, was in the midst of writing what he claimed would be his magnum opus: an epic mock-heroic poem about the “War of the Bucket” between Modena and Bologna entitled, appropriately, La Secchia Rapita (The Rape of the Bucket). It was about a famous conflict between the two city-states that took place in 1325, won by Modena.

“The bucket is a myth!” shouted an exasperated Reni, throwing his hands up.

“Then why do we have it in the basement of the Ghirlandina?” asked Tassoni matter-of-factly.

“It was probably a drunken jest from after the battle,” said Albani, “some fool found a bucket and made some fuss about it being a Bolognese bucket and it stuck.”

Tassoni laughed. “And what of it?” he persisted, “it makes for a good story.”

MZ5ObmD.jpg

Alessandro Tassoni

“Read some of it,” cut in Europa Rossi, the opera singer, “I want to hear the story.”

“Oh great, now the Mantovani have thrown in with the Modenesi,” said an exasperated Guido Reni, in reference to Europa’s own hometown. Europa was the sister of the famous composer and violinist Salamone Rossi. The musically talented siblings were making a name for themselves across northern Italy and they had performed often since they arrived for a sojourn in Orvieto. Salamone was so gifted with the violin it was not unheard for him to bring both women and men to tears from the beauty of the music. Europa was quite the talent herself. All those present to hear her agreed that her voice was as lovely as any they’d ever heard.

On this night however, Salamone was not playing his violin but instead discussing politics with Federico Boncompagni, Fabrizio Perruzzi, and the young businessman Folco de Roberti. “The Turkish Sultan is always a threat,” Peruzzi was saying, “but the King of Spain is Tuscany’s greatest enemy. You will see.”

“As a Jew, I have to agree with our friend Gianluigi,” said Salamone Rossi, “say what you want about the Turkish Sultan, but we are not persecuted in the Empire of the Ottomans the way we are in Iberia. Even here in Italy, with all the talk of the Grand Duke’s piety, the Inquisition has been rather mild, at least towards us. He even employs a Jew as his Master of Mints.”

“Well that’s because you are all so good with money,” laughed Federico.

Salamone gave him a sour look. “I’ve made it a point of pride to be awful with my money,” he said, “thankfully my income has tended to exceed my spending.”

Giulio’s attention was turned away from the conversation by a tap on the shoulder. “May I sit with you, my Prince?” asked a young woman’s voice. Giulio looked up. It was Livia Cuordelmare. Livia had only been at Orvieto for about a month but had quickly become one of Giulio’s favorite companions. He smiled warmly.

“Of course, my lady,” he said, offering her a spot next to him on the grass. She returned the smile and sat next to him.

“Your cousin Vittorio is…quite the little talker,” said Livia, referring to Giulio’s thirteen-year-old cousin. Vittorio was the grandson of Ferdinando dé Medici who, along with Giulio’s brother Alberto, had co-founded the Medici Oriental Press. Ferdinando, now an old man, ran the business side of the Medici dynasty. Giulio’s ancestor, Grand Duke Francesco Stefano, had created a separation between the political and business sides of the family, something that had helped prevent corruption, enrich the cadet branches of the family, and allow the Grand Dukes to focus on ruling rather than profits. Vittorio dreamed of becoming an artist and had taken the opportunity to come to Orvieto to mingle with the various talents from across Italy that frequented Giulio’s circle. However, as a teenaged boy in the presence of many beautiful women, he had also taken to chasing after the ladies of Orvieto, which they all found rather amusing.

“He is a good boy,” replied Giulio, chuckling.

“He seems to be,” said Livia, “although a bit too…eager.”

“Indeed,” commented Giulio, as they watched Vittorio move on to trying to charm Marina Monaldeschi, a buxom brunette who was doing her best to ignore the boy.

“How is your evening?” Livia asked, changing the subject and snuggling her body under the woolen blanket against his arm as they both looked into the crackling fire.

“Wonderful,” said Giulio, taking a sip of his wine, “I’ve spent it overhearing others’ conversations. One is always surprised at how entertaining that can be.”

“Oh, any good gossip?” she asked excitedly, her eyes alive with mischief.

“Well,” said Giulio, lowering his voice to a whisper and leaning his face close to hers, “if I’m no fool, I think Lady Europa has fallen for Tassoni.”

Livia’s eyes went wide. “Ohhh,” she said, “well I can’t blame a lady for falling for a poet.”

“No,” he said sighing, “I suppose not. Men of artistic talent are probably more interesting than the rest of us.”

“There are quite a few of them here,” she said looking around.

“There are,” replied Giulio, “though sometimes I think there are too many people here that I did not know last year. I often wonder what I’m doing.”

“Do you ever find an answer?” she asked.

“Living life, I suppose,” said Giulio shrugging. “This life is like the sweetest thing I’ve ever known. Yet I do not know if it is what I am supposed to be doing. I often think I should be back with my old regiment, training, preparing for the next war.”

“You just don’t have a good distraction.”

“Could be,” said Giulio, “maybe if I had more of that artistic skill.”

“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Livia, her hand moving to rest on Giulio’s chest, “I’ve heard you play the violin, you are quite talented. Your songs brought me to tears more than once.”

“I cannot take the credit,” replied Giulio, though he was flattered by her compliment, “my instrument was made by the Brothers Amati in Cremona, as good an instrument as any of its kind in the world.”

“Where did you learn to play?” she asked.

“I was introduced to the violin as a child, but it was not until I went on campaign in the Netherlands that I truly devoted time to learning it,” said Giulio, “it helped get my mind off the fighting and the drudgery of army life.”

“Perhaps you can play again for me some time,” said Livia, nuzzling her head into his should, “I think it would be very romantic.”

“All I know are sad songs,” replied Giulio, gazing into the fire.

That caused her to pick her head up and look at him. “Everything about you is sad,” she said, her face showing concern, the light from the fire brightening her brown eyes. “I don’t know everything that you saw, but I was in Amsterdam and I saw what war can do. I am no innocent girl. I can make you happy again.”

Giulio was slightly taken aback. Most of the women he knew tended to avoid the topic of the war when it got too serious. They were more than happy to discuss it when it was about the pomp and heroism and pageantry that came with war, but never its attendant horrors. It was why ever since he came back he found he could not stay with a woman more than a night or two. He always made excuses and tried to let them off with flattery and a kind word, but the truth was that he could not open up.

Livia was different, and in his mind that was what made her special. She had come to Amsterdam when she was in the service of his cousin Princess Margherita. At the time, Giulio had paid little enough attention, thinking of Livia as little more than a girl. But she had seen things and learned things that most women of her age in Italy did not know. It made Livia easy to talk to.

“Maybe,” he said, poking her in the side and causing her to giggle, “maybe I will play just for you.”

“Careful,” she said with a sly smile, “you’ll make Silvia Tornabuoni and Marina Monaldeschi jealous.”

“I’ll take my chances. Plus, Marina has her hands full with my cousin right about now.”

“Don’t tell me you’ve grown bored of them,” she said with feigned concern, “they are so vivacious.”

“Bored is a harsh way to put it.” Giulio looked at Livia.

“Put it how you will,” she said, “I won’t argue. But I will ask you for that song now.”

Giulio arched his eyebrows. This was what he liked about Livia. She was feisty and always playful. “I did not bring my violin,” he said, “I left it back at the palazzo.”

“Perfect,” she said, “then you have an excuse to take me back there early.”

“Oh do I?” asked Giulio, amused.

“Of course,” she replied, standing up and brushing the grass off her dress, “I said I was going to make you happy. After your song, I will get started on that project.”

Giulio did not need much more convincing. “Well I guess I ought to oblige. You are way too fine to be going home alone.”

The next morning, when they lay in bed together, Giulio listened to Livia go on about her love of painting and planting a garden. She was in the middle of reminiscing about helping her grandfather, the legendary pirate-turned-admiral Sabir al-din Leta, tend the tamarind trees he had brought to Italy from his native land.

A crazy thought suddenly struck Giulio as he watched and listened to her. “Why don’t we just get married?” he interrupted.

Livia stopped mid-sentence and looked at him, trying to decide if he was serious. “Don’t tease me,” she replied, “it’s cruel.”

“I’m serious,” said Giulio, looking into her dark eyes.

“It’s impossible,” she stated flatly. “Your family is the ruling dynasty, my grandfather was a pirate.”

“Your grandfather was a hero,” Giulio insisted. He was not trying to hide the excitement in his voice. “Your family is newly ennobled true, but also very wealthy,” he continued, “I know of a certain other family that started out that way, now they rule over the greater part of Italy.”

She smiled at him and stroked his cheek. “You are sweet, my prince,” she said, “but I am sure you will be married to a princess of France or Poland or Hungary.”

“I don’t want that,” he said, suddenly serious again, “I want you. You make me feel whole again. I lost something of myself in the war, you can help me find it again.”

Livia looked at Giulio for a moment, then she suddenly began to cry. She threw her arms around his shoulders, the bed covers slipping off her body, her bare breasts rubbing against his chest. “I love you,” she said as she nuzzled her face into his neck, “but I never believed I could truly have you.”

“Well you do,” he replied, “my heart and my mind.”

Livia pulled away from him and looked into his eyes. “Promise me you are not fooling me, promise me you will not leave me or put me aside.”

“I promise.”

They made love again, more intensely than they ever had before. Afterwards, Giulio lay on the bed, Livia’s arm and leg sprawled across as his body as she quietly slept. He looked out the window. Outside, he could see the clear blue sky hanging over a crisp winter day and hear the song of a greenfinch coming through the glass. He breathed in deeply and took in the blissful tranquility of the moment. Perhaps this was the reason for wars, he thought, so that men may know the meaning of peace.

_____________________________________________________________________________


Florence

11 May 1602


Hers was a gentle prison. Margherita dé Medici took solace from that. Why would her cousin go to such great pains to provide for her comfort in captivity, comforts she knew that he did not even allow for himself, if he had her marked for a traitor’s death? He cannot mean to kill me, she told herself a hundred times, He does not have it in him to be so cruel. Plus, there was Alessandro. Her half-brother was a hero of Tuscany and a dangerous man. No matter what Margherita had done, he would never allow her to come to harm. He might have been born a bastard, but he was now “The Black Prince”, beloved by the commons, admired by every young military officer, and one of the best commanders in the army, not to mention one of Italy’s most ruthlessly skilled killers.

And then, even if Alessandro should fail, she had her womanly charms. Alberto was her cousin, so seduction was not an option. And even if they were not related, he was too much of a pious fool to fall under that spell. But there were ways for women to get to any man. For Alberto, if need be, tears and repentance would be her weapon. He knows I’ve been a wicked girl, if I promise myself to prayer and devotion he will spare me surely. If need be, she would throw herself at the foot of his chair, admit her faults, and beg him for pardon. Alberto loved to be magnanimous and her prostration before him would be his ultimate victory. He was filled with piety and zeal, and there was nothing pious men enjoyed more than crushing the will of a free-spirited woman. The final, most extreme option, was to offer to go to a convent. There were worse choices. The wealthiest nunneries let their inhabitants live lavish lifestyles. Sure, she might have to give up men, but she could still drink wine and read and enjoy the outdoors.

Then again, giving up men might not be as easy as it sounded now. Pretty boys had ever been her weakness, particularly the ones who were dark and dangerous as well. That was what had gotten her in her present situation. Camillo Durazzo. He was not the most brilliant man she’d ever met, particularly in retrospect, but he was beautiful and gallant to boot.

The commander of Margherita’s guard on the trip back to Florence from Genoa had been handsome and olive-skinned as well. Renato d'Azzeglio had been the one to find her and her ladies on the battlefield but when the princess refused to surrender to him, he finally cracked and talked General Pietro di Campofregoso into accepting her surrender instead. D'Azzeglio had been given the task of escorting the high value prisoners as a punishment. “You wasted my time with this nonsense,” the old general had growled at the poor boy after Margherita surrendered to him in his command tent, “so now I will waste yours.” The youngster was under strict instruction to pass no information to her about what happened to the rest of the rebel army, to include Durazzo.

She’d tried her wiles on him anyway, hoping to gain some opening for an escape or at least to gather more information, but this boy was either far too dutiful or far too scared of General Campofregoso to fall for them. Each night when they stopped she invited him into her tent for innocent, superficial conversation. Then, one night, when they were encamped just south of Massa along the Via Aurelia, she made her move. After several glasses of wine, she kissed d'Azzeglio deeply on the lips and massaged his manhood with her hand. For several seconds, he had returned her kiss and she felt him get hard. But then, as if brought out of a spell, he wriggled away from her. Margherita was touched by his innocence. He actually apologized to her for what happened. He excused himself, guilt-stricken and blushing. After that, she barely saw him again, and only when surrounded by other soldiers.

The rest of the trip to Florence had been uneventful. Margherita expected to be brought before her counsin’s high seat in the Palazzo Pitti on the south bank of the Arno, but instead she was taken to the Palazzo Medici, in the heart of the capital city, and the custody of Father Arturo Guidobaldo, her uncle Francesco’s old confessor.

Once her door had been closed and barred, Margherita explored her new home. Though the palace was named for her family, Margherita had never spent much time there, even as a girl. She preferred the myriad country villas and their fresh air and smells of flowers and trees and animals. When she did have to come to the capital, the Palazzo Pitti was where she stayed. That palace was grander and in the days when her father ruled Tuscany, Margherita had ruled the halls of the Pitti like a queen. The smaller, cramped halls and rooms of the Palazzo Medici had never suited her, and even less her mother, the Grand Duchess Isabella, who avoided it with zeal.

Her room, or cell, was large and airy as far as this palace went, and did not lack for comforts. There were Turkish carpets on the floor, red wine to drink, and books to read. In one corner stood an ornate chess set in ivory and onyx, though she had no one to play with even if she had been so inclined. She had a featherbed to sleep in and a privy with a marble seat, sweetened by a basketful of herbs. Her windows looked out upon the Piazza San Lorenzo and the beautiful Basilica of the same name that rose beyond it. It gave her a chance to watch the people come and go, keeping her partly in touch with normalcy during her captivity.

On that first day, Margherita expected to be summoned to see Alberto, but when the door finally opened, it proved to be just some servants with her food. “When will I see my cousin?” she asked, but none of them would answer. The food brought to her was sumptuous, as it would prove to be for every meal in her cell, but she could not bring herself to eat. “I am not hungry,” Margherita told the servants, thinking of Camillo and the men he had led into battle. Surely those that were still alive would be eating bread and water or some similar fare. “Take this away and bring me my brother,” she demanded when her dinner was brought in. But the servants left the food. After a while, hunger weakened her resolve, so she sat and ate. The meal was excellent: lamb with a salad of raisins and carrots soaked in wine and pastries dripping with honey.

The priest in charge of her was the only person Margherita saw aside from the servants, who never spoke a word to her. Considering that he was the Jesuit Confessor of a man as severe and humorless as Grand Duke Francesco I, Father Arturo, as he insisted Margherita call him, was a kindly and soft-spoken man. As a lover of books, he ensured that Margherita never wanted for reading material. Though he insisted she keep a Bible and a copy of Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises in her room at all times, he was otherwise openhanded with the books he gave her.

Still, despite the comforts, the captivity was not easy. At night she cried herself to sleep. Even in her dreams she found she had no peace. She dreamt of Camillo Durazzo caressing her, smiling at her, telling her he loved her…but then she would find that it was just his head, dripping blood from the neck where it had been cut off from his body. She did not know if Camillo still lived, but even if he did, there was no way it would be for much longer.

During the day, things were not much better. For the first few days of her captivity, Margherita had patiently watched the people strolling through the Piazza San Lorenzo, the merchants hawking their wares, the children playing, the soldiers swaggering about. But soon that grew tiresome. After nearly a week in her room, she asked Father Arturo when her cousin was going to see her. “When his Grace has time, my dear,” the priest answered in his kindly tone. She could get no more out of him than that.

After what she estimated had been ten days, Margherita got the notion to yell down from her window to the people below. Up to then her own sense of dignity had prevented her from doing so. Never let them see you vulnerable, her father had taught her, but the time was wearing on her dignity as well. “Help!” she shouted down, “I am in need of help!” She was not sure what she was going to achieve but she had to try something. “I have gold for any man who delivers a message to my brother, The Black Prince.” That got her some curious looks but it was not long before the guards outside her door came in and gently but firmly dragged Margherita way from the window. All she could do was sob. That night, Father Arturo informed her with a sad look in his eyes that by order of the Grand Duke, if she was to try something like that again, the windows of her room would be barred and she would have to spend the rest of her captivity in darkness. That prospect terrified Margherita so much that she kept her time at her window in silence.

Margherita began to lose count of the days. Is this my cousin’s notion of torment? Not the rack or the whip, but simple silence? That was so very like Alberto dé Medici that she had to laugh. He thinks he is being subtle when he is only being feeble. She resolved to enjoy the quiet, to use the time to heal and fortify herself for what was to come.

It was no use dwelling endlessly on Camillo Durazzo. For all she knew he was dead already and even if he still drew breath, his remaining days were surely few. She had loved him, but now Margherita had more important matters to think about, for both of them.

Then a day came when a rough hand woke her, shaking her by the shoulder. “Little sister,” said a voice she had known from childhood. “Up and dressed, the Grand Duke has called for you.” Margherita thought it was too good to be true. It must be a dream. Then she turned and looked upon his face.

Her brother Alessandro stood over her, smiling and shaking his head. “It is about time we got you out of here,” he said, “this prison is causing some of your famous beauty to slip away.” Margherita reached out and tried to strike him with her hand, giggling all the while. Alessandro laughed. “The servants are on their way,” he said, “they’ll get you washed and bring you new clothing. I had an entire chest full made for you from the best dress makers in all Florence.”

“You’re too good to me brother,” replied Margherita, “I don’t deserve it.”

“You’re my sister,” he said, “and a princess of Tuscany, you deserve the world.” His face grew serious. “You should know that what you face will not be easy, many are calling for your execution as a traitor. Of course that will never happen, I will not allow it, still, you will face unkind words.”

“I have faced worse,” she said, “and as long as I have you to protect me, what do I need fear?”

“Nothing,” he said, the cocksure smile returning to his face, “I will see you again soon.” With that he turned on his heel and left through the door.

A short while later, just as Alessandro had promised, the servants returned with a chest full of clothes and a tub filled with hot water. After her bath, Margherita went through the chest, carefully examining each dress. She donned the most revealing garments she could find, wisps of red and gold silk that covered everything but hid nothing. Grand Duke Alberto might treat her like a child, but she would dress like a woman. She knew such garb would discomfit her cousin when he chastised her for her treason. She counted on it. If I must crawl and weep, let him be uncomfortable as well.

After she dressed, Margherita had one of the serving girls do up her hair in elaborate fashion. The front she had curled up with a hot iron while the back she wore long, her blonde hair twisted and wound with ribbons and then coiled and pinned up. When she admired herself in the looking glass, she decided the look was more than fit for court.

When Margherita was ready, two armed guards escorted her out of the Palazzo Medici where more men, mounted, armed, and splendidly armored, awaited her, a dozen in all. They all wore black capes and the sigils on their breast bore the black hand on a white field of the Reggimento della Mano Nera, her brother Alessandro’s regiment. She did not recognize any of their faces, but the men of the Mano Nera, meaning “Black Hand”, loved her brother and were loyal unto death, she felt immediately at ease. One of them, apparently their commander, stood dismounted and held a beautiful white mare. My brother did not miss a detail, she thought. “Princess,” said the officer, “I hope this mount is pleasing to you.”

“She is beautiful,” replied Margherita sweetly, “thank you Signor…”

“Cercignani,” he replied, “Marco Cercignani, commander of the first company of the Mano Nera, at your service.”

“Thank you captain,” she said, recognizing his name, “your sister is Cecilia.” Cecilia Cercignani had been one of Margherita’s ladies before leaving her service to return to Florence.

“She is,” replied the captain, “she always speaks very highly of you my princess.”

“She is a sweet girl, and very beautiful,” said Margherita, “we should speak more captain, but for now, let us be on our way, I would hate to keep my dutiful cousin waiting.” The column departed from the Palazzo Medici and headed south along the Borgo San Lorenzo, past the Battistero di San Giovanni then across Via del Corso and the Piazza della Repubblica. South of Via Porta Rossa, they passed the Mercato Nuovo on their right, where butchers and tanners sold their goods alongside the vendors of more luxurious items like silks and precious metals. Margherita saw hot and sweet sausages hanging, fat hams, and even the snouts of pigs at a meat stand. The large crowd parted to let her and her armed escort through. When the people recognized her, nobody booed or hissed, much to the princess’s surprise. Instead, she was met by jubilant cries of “Principessa! Principessa!” One of the butchers handed her a string of hot sausages in a basket. Other sellers, not wanting to be outdone, rushed up to her bearing their gifts. It made her escort a bit nervous but in the end there were no major incidents and, despite a slight delay, the princess departed the Mercato bearing myriad pork products, a basket of lampreys and river pike, and a fine pair of leather sandals.

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When they reached the three-way intersection with Via Vacchereccia to their left, Margherita caught a brief glimpse of the Palazzo Vecchio but the column moved on. She had been unsure if her audience with the Grand Duke would be there or in the Palazzo Pitti across the river. So he means to make this a grand spectacle. They moved further south and across the Ponte Vecchio without trouble. Once they were on the south side of the Arno, the wider roads made the rest of the journey go quickly.

Behind the Palazzo Pitti, towering above Florence, stood the Fortezza di Santa Maria in San Giorgio del Belvedere, the new great fortress built by Bernardo Buontalenti to anchor the southern defenses of Florence between the Porta Romana and the Porta San Niccoló. It was only a few years since the Belvedere was finished but it made for an awesome sight with its high walls and pointed ramparts. It was connected to the Palazzo Pitti and all the way across the city over the Ponte Vecchio to the Palazzo Vecchio via the Vasari Corridor.

Once the group arrived at Piazza Pitti, with the imposing palace before them, they dismounted and Captain Cercignani escorted the princess to the door, where her brother Alessandro awaited. He was dressed finely with a black patterned doublet with full black breeches, black stockings, and flat black shoes with roses on them. He carried a wide-brimmed black hat. His two swords, an ornate Italian-made saber and a curved Abyssinian shotel, hung on either side of his belt.

“The Princess Margherita, delivered safely sir,” said Cercignani snapping a salute to Alessandro.

“Good work captain,” replied her brother, “dressed as she is I’m surprised you managed to keep the good men of Florence off of her.”

Captain Cercignani laughed, “we nearly had an incident at the Mercato Nuovo, but they seemed content just to give her gifts.”

“Good to know,” said Alessandro, “well get the men and yourself some food and be on the ready should we need you.”

“Yes sir.”

That reminded Margherita of all the food she’d been given. “Captain, you and your men may help yourselves to the food I was given, as a thank you for being my escort.”

“My princess is too kind.” With that he bowed, turned, and stepped off.

Margherita slid her arm into Alessandro’s. “I must confess I am a bit nervous,” she whispered as they walked through the main entrance of the palace.

“Is that why you wore such modest clothing?” he asked, pinching her on the hip.

“Ow,” she said, swatting at his hand, “I thought they’d be more hesitant to kill me if they saw the quality of woman they would be wasting.”

“You’re a wicked one, sweet sister,” he said. The pair entered the portion of the palace known as the Halls of the Planets. They first entered the Hall of Venus, where groups of nobles milled about, waiting to be received into the main throne room. The talk turned to mutters and whispers as the two Medici passed by. From there it was on to the Hall of Apollo, where more groups stood and waited with the same reaction. It was only when the two entered the Hall of Mars that they were basically alone, save for a pair of guards standing before the entrance to the throne room, the Room of Jupiter.

In the Hall of Mars, Margherita felt as if she were walking under a bright sky, adorned by the Medici coat of arms in the center. The frescoed ceiling was recently completed by Pietro da Cortona. This was one of the most longed for antechambers to be in for most people, as it was reserved for ambassadors and important persons. For Margherita, however, the moment just made her nervous. From inside the Hall of Jupiter, she could hear many people talking. Alberto has brought them in for the show.

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The frescoed ceiling in the Hall of Mars in the Pitti Palace

The guards outside the entrance to the throne room hailed them. “Well, this is where I leave you for now,” said Alessandro, “I will see you inside.” With that, he stepped past the guards and opened the door to the room and walked inside. For a brief moment Margherita heard the murmurs within before the doors closed again. She waited patiently for the herald to come out and announce her. She took a deep breath and steeled herself for what was to come. You were made for this. After what seemed like an eternity the herald emerged.

“Princess,” he said, “are you ready?”

“Always,” Margherita replied with a calm. The guards opened the door.

“The Princess Margherita dé Medici,” the herald announced, “Countess of Reggio and Lady of Canossa.” The whispers and murmurs met Margherita’s ears immediately. Undaunted, she strode forward through the Hall of Jupiter, head held high. The Grand Duke’s seat was empty still, but all his counselors were in attendance and the court was crowded. All eyes were upon Margherita as she walked the length of the room. The gilded ceiling and walls shone brightly as the light of the summer sun beamed in brightly through the tall glass windows.

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Margherita finally stopped when she reached the end of the walk, before the table emplaced for the high council. She gave them a curtsy, “my lords.”

“Princess Margherita,” said the always jovial Abraham Sengialia, the Master of Mints, “your beauty is absolutely…radiant today.”

“Thank you Signor Senigalia,” she replied.

“Radiant is one way to put it I guess,” said dour old Rodrigo Fifanti, examining Margherita’s outfit with disapproving eyes, “other words could be used.”

“Flawless may be the word my Lord is looking for,” the princess volunteered. Senigalia laughed, though some of the other counselors scoffed and displeased murmurs accompanied laughs among the courtiers.

“Your hair, in particular, looks rather complicated,” added Giovanni Buondelmonti, Count of Lorenzana, “it must have taken hours to prepare.”

“You are mistaken, My Lord,” she said, “I woke up like this.” That one illicited a greater laugh from the court. Better to keep it lighthearted. The Count smiled at her.

“You stand accused of lewdness, fornication, and conspiracy to commit high treason,” interrupted Sigismondo Alberti, Count of Prato, “one would think the princess would be a bit more contrite.”

“I’m sorry,” cut in Alessandro, “I was not aware you’d been crowned Grand Duke, Alberti. Perhaps you ought to let His Highness pronounce the accusations?”

“Prince Alessandro,” said the indignant Count, “she may be your sister, but you should refrain from defending her, she is still the traitor’s slut.” That comment triggered a raucous response from the assembled courtiers, some in agreement with Alberti and some indignant.

Alessandro just laughed, though his left hand came to rest on the pommel of his shotel. “Perhaps you are right,” he said coolly, “but I plead with you to forgive my sweet sister her trespasses. She is only human after all. Not all women can be as upstanding and virtuous as the Countess of Prato.” That barb elicited another round of guffaws and shouts. It was widely rumored at court that Alessandro had once carried on an affair with Alberti’s wife.

The Count reddened, visibly angry. He was about to reply when the herald interrupted. “His Royal Highness, Alberto I, by the grace of God and the will of the people, Grand Duke of Tuscany, King of Naples, Count of Foggia, Lord of Capri, Gonfaloniere of the Republics of Florence, Siena, and Lucca, Royal Patrician of Ferrara.” Everyone in the Hall of Jupiter bowed and curtsied as Alberto entered. When Margherita glanced up, she could tell Alberto was uncomfortable. This spectacle was not his idea, she realized suddenly. Alberto was not the type of man made for court. Ever since he was a boy, he was shy and bookish, and always more at home in his reading room or tending his garden than he was holding court, practicing at arms, or hunting.

“Your Royal Highness, the first business of the court today is with the Princess Margherita dé Medici,” said the grand ducal steward, Renato Salviati. Alberto sat down on his throne and gave Margherita a weary look.

“Margherita, my cousin,” he said, “do you know why you are here?”

“I believe I do,” she replied.

Alberto looked wearily at the court bailiff. “If you could read the charges…”

The bailiff stepped forward, unrolled a paper, and began reading: “For the charges of conspiracy to commit high treason by usurping the throne of His Royal Highness the Grand Duke…” Guilty, Margherita thought to herself. “For providing aid, gold, weapons, and comfort to the pretender and traitor Camillo Durazzo and his co-conspirators…” Guilty. “For fornication with numerous men outside the bonds of marriage, to include known traitors and usurpers…” that caused Margherita to smirk: Guilty. “For employing the ladies in her service to seduce noblemen, including agents of the crown, to advance her own purposes…” Margherita laughed out loud at that one. The princess’s ladies may have “entertained” her noble guests, but they never had to work very hard to “seduce” those men. They were always very willing participants in the so-called seduction. “For conspiring with foreign agents to dismember the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and its subordinate lands, most notably the Kingdom of Naples…” Not guilty. The idiotic plan to try and work in the King of Spain had been Lamello Balla’s and, as she’d expected, was a failure. “And for slandering the name of His Royal Highness, Grand Duke Alberto I…” Guilty. “Princess Margherita dé Medici stands accused.” When the bailiff was done, the court began buzzing like a swarm of wasps.

Alberto remained silent, seated on his throne. He studied Margherita and she studied him back. Is this where I grovel and beg for mercy? She’d planned on doing just that, but the sight of these old, petty men, whose ancestry was the only thing that made them worthy of being called “lord” and “count” and “gentlemen”, angered her. She refused to give them the satisfaction.

The bailiff continued. “The accused may speak in her defense. Elsewise, she may request a trial, as is her right, and be judged in the court.” The prospect of a trial was exhilarating in its own way. The last Medici to be tried was her ancestor, Piero dé Medici, back in 1455. That trial had been the talk of Florence for months before and after. Piero and his fellow defendants had lost, and the Medici were banished from public life for a generation. It was not until Piero’s son and Margherita’s great-great-grandfather, who would come to be known as Girolamo the Magnificent, saved Florence from the madness of Savonarola that they resumed their place at the head of the Republic. Alas, the risk of a public trial was too high. Margherita was willing to grovel, but not before the whole court.

“I humbly request an audience with the Grand Duke…alone.”

The court buzzed again. “Confess!” someone shouted. “Show us your tits!” yelled another. “Mercy!” pleaded a woman’s voice from somewhere in the back. “That is not one of the choices you were offered,” said a voice that sounded like the Count of Pistoia.

Margherita had to get Alberto to see her alone. “I do wish to confess,” she said, holding her head high and speaking clearly, “but for the love you once bore me as your cousin, I ask you allow me to do so in private. Failing that, for the honor of our family, I beseech you to keep our business among us.”

Alberto’s eyes brightened. She had given him an excuse to end the spectacle which he clearly had not wanted to begin with. “Very well,” said the Grand Duke after a long pause, “bailiff, clear the hall.” Dissatisfied mutters filled the air but the courtiers did as they were told. Alessandro walked over to Margherita and whispered in her ear, “smart move.”

“That means you too Alessandro,” said Alberto, standing up from his throne. Alessandro nodded and turned to leave the room. Once the hall was clear, Alberto descended the steps and pulled up a chair. He pointed to one across from the small, ornate table, in dark wood lined with gold, “sit.” Margherita obliged and took her seat. Alberto sat down across from her.

“Why did it have to come to this?” he asked, in a pained voice.

“My birthright was taken from me,” Margherita replied, to the point.

“That matter was settled years ago, if you wanted for anything, I could have provided it.”

“It was not material wealth I wanted, it was a strong leader.”

“And Camillo Durazzo was that leader?” Alberto asked.

“No,” Margherita replied, “I was that leader.”

Alberto leaned back in his chair and studied her. “Why do you hate me so? What cause did I give you? I have heard it said you despise my piety. But I have never curtailed your freedoms.”

Margherita thought the question over. Because you are weak. Because you took away my birthright. Because you cannot lead Tuscany. She kept the thoughts to herself, instead she just shrugged.

“Do you think I wanted this?” he asked her.

Margherita did not know the answer. “Is this where you tell me that you do not want to be the Grand Duke? That it is a burden and so on and so forth?”

“It is exactly that,” he said seriously. “When, as children, did you ever know me to be ambitious. What I wanted, what I really wanted, was for your father to have a son. Then, I could have served him as a minister and advisor. I was never skilled in arms. I have no taste for war. But I do know duty and devotion and service. I wanted to serve. Perhaps that makes me weak in the minds of some.”

Margherita looked at her cousin, suddenly in a new light. Have I ever had a real conversation with him? She came to the Pitti Palace expecting to have to confess, but now here he was pouring out his feelings to her.

“I was a sickly boy in my early years,” he continued, “surely you remember. By the time I was old enough and strong enough to spend time outdoors regularly, it was too late to become a great swordsman. I could never hope to match Giulio, Alessandro, and the other boys. Sure, I tried swordplay with Giulio once or twice, but every time I was hopelessly overmatched. So I moved on to other passions. They had their swords, but I had my books. I learned how to plant and tend a garden. I devoted myself to the Church. At one point I wanted to become a priest, but my father forbade it. I pleaded with him that Giulio would make a better Grand Duke than me. He was the soldier. But he said it was my duty and that he would not let me run from it. So, here I am. What more do you want from me, cousin? I am only doing the work that was given to me.”

Margherita realized she was staring at her hands on the table. When she looked up at Alberto, she half expected to see him crying, but instead found only a stoic look on his face. For once, Margherita dé Medici was at a loss for words. The pair looked at each other for a long while. I have to tell him now, she realized. Margherita took a deep breath. “I’m pregnant,” she said, as calmly as she could.

Alberto arched his eyebrows. “Durazzo’s?” She nodded. The Grand Duke took a deep breath. “This will not change Durazzo’s fate,” he said, his voice level and calm, “he must die for what he did.”

Margherita nodded. She had figured on this, as sad as it would be. What she was concerned with now was the life of her unborn child. “And…and my child?”

Alberto’s face softened, “it will never lack for comfort. You will be free to raise it as you wish.” He stopped and looked at her with an expression of mild amusement. “Did you think I would harm your child?”

“I…I did not know what to think.”

“Whatever the sins or crimes of the parents, the child is innocent. Margherita, for all you have done, you are still my blood. There were times during this foolish rebellion of yours when I was enraged at you. Part of the reason why I kept you locked in the Medici Palace for so long was to give myself time to reflect, time to collect myself. I did not want to face you when I was wroth with you. I did not even want the court there but my ministers and advisors insisted. Your child will always be well taken care of.”

Margherita wanted to hug her cousin. “Thank you Alberto…I…” she realized that she was crying. All the time leading up to her meeting with Alberto she’d expected to either have to grovel in defeat or flare her defiance against his immovable piety and self-righteousness. Instead, he had caught her off guard. He had shown her kindness and humanity. The princess wiped the tears from her eyes. She’d arrived at the Palazzo Pitti expecting to have to feign some tears, but these were all genuine. “I’m sorry, I…” The words were drowned out by her own sobs.

A hand reached across the table and took hers gently. “Margherita, look at me.” She looked up. “Listen to me,” Alberto said, “we need to be clear about a few things. Are you prepared to hear me out?” She nodded. “As much as I wish it did not have to be so, you will have to suffer some punishment for what you did. We cannot appear to favor ourselves over others. Appearances are important. Do you understand?” Margherita nodded again. “First, you will be stripped of the majority of your lands and titles. I will leave you Canossa, since I know how much you love it, but all else will be restored to the crown to be dispensed at a later date as the crown sees fit. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” she said. Keeping Canossa was a better deal than she had hoped to get, especially considering she had arrived at the Pitti still considering the possibility she’d be executed.

“Second,” he continued, “you will have to come and witness the execution of Durazzo and his co-conspirators. I do not demand this out of some cruelty toward you. I know it will be difficult. But it will help appease those who are demanding your own head. I may be the Grand Duke, but there are many in this realm who love me little. I need to be seen as one who dispenses justice, even to you.”

Margherita nodded again. “Will I be able to see him again? Camillo. Before he…before you…”

“Yes,” said Alberto softly. “I will give you leave to see him again in secret. I want you to tell him that your child will be alright. Whatever his crimes, the man should be able to die knowing that.”

“Thank you.”

“Third,” Alberto said, returning to business, “is that I expect your loyalty and obedience going forward. I will not ask you to do anything that would bring you dishonor. And I know we will continue to have disagreements.” Alberto laughed, “we are far too different as people to see eye to eye. You are strong willed and free spirited. I understand that. But I expect that you dedicate your many talents and your energy to serving Tuscany and our family. If you put aside your personal ambition, and work with me, I think you will find plenty of opportunity to flourish. You are a rare woman Margherita, I would like to have you on my side, whatever our differences.” Alberto sighed, “I think I have offered extremely lenient terms. I expect you will accept them.”

I do not have a choice anyway, she thought. Still, there was no denying that her cousin was offering an excellent deal. “You have my word,” she said.

“Good,” he replied. “Now that we have that settled, I will have to make these terms public. If you are ready, cousin, I will call the court back in.”

Margherita smiled, “I am always ready.”

“Good,” replied Alberto with a wink, “let us put on a show for the good people of the Florentine court.”


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Florence

8 September 1602


“More wine!” hollered Pantaleone Gattilusio, banging his cup repeatedly on the dark oak table. The tavern keeper gave him a sour look but headed to the back to get more wine anyway. Leo, as he was known by his friends, had coin, and that was all it took. Too bad it probably won’t last me much longer. He was drinking and whoring most of it away but he could not think of much better to spend it on.

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Leo was unmarried and a cripple. His only family was his sister, Martina, and she was living in Bologna, married to Guglielmo Bentivoglio. Since her wedding she’d grown plump and given birth to four healthy children. Martina and Guglielmo’s marriage was not one flaming with passion, but Bentivoglio was a good man, despite his family’s less than stellar reputation, and Martina seemed more than content. In his younger days, Leo had had a fling with Guglielmo’s cousin, Anna, and he’d had half a thought of calling on her during his stay in the city. Then he thought better of it. What use would a highborn woman like her have with a one-legged orphan? Instead, he’d spent the latter portion of his visit sampling Bologna’s many whore houses, before his sister gently recommended he head home.

Home, for the time being, was a small apartment in Florence. It was rather sparse and not the sort of place a man would want to show off, but it was home nonetheless. His most valued possessions were weapons: a fine cavalry sword given to him as a gift by the last Grand Duke, Francesco I, and an ornate pistol he took off a French officer while on campaign in Languedoc. Aside from those, he also had a horse, named Zampino. In his prime, Zampino would have been more valuable than sword or pistol, but the poor beast had lost an eye in the war and limped badly after taking arquebus shots to his front right and rear left legs. Worst of all, with only his own right leg left to him, Leo couldn’t even ride the animal anymore. Nevertheless, he couldn’t bring himself to sell him. The pair had been through too much together. He still paid the monthly fee to keep the damn horse in a stable and have him groomed. Leo often wondered what the stableboys must think of him when he went down to sit with Zampino and brush his mane. Just two lost souls, scarred and maimed by the war.

The tavern keeper came back with a pitcher of dark red wine and Leo handed him two coins. He poured himself another cup and took a long drink. Perhaps I could go visit Orvieto again, he thought to himself. His old friend, Giulio dé Medici had found his post-war solace in his castle in the idyllic town in the Umbrian hills. The last time Leo went there was for Giulio’s wedding to Livia Cuordelmare, a woman Giulio married out of love. Giulio had his own demons to fight from the war but he seemed to be having a much better time of it than Leo. There was no denying that Livia had changed him for the better. When Giulio had come to visit Leo while the latter was recovering at Montecatini, where the hot springs helped soothe the pain in his body, the Prince too had been a borderline broken man. When Leo saw him again at the wedding, he was like a different person. Maybe I just need a good woman, he mused as he finished the cup and refilled it from the pitcher.

Suddenly, a hand clasped Leo on his right shoulder. Instinctively, he shot his elbow back, trying to bury it in the man’s stomach. The other was too quick though and jumped back laughing. “Easy now,” he said. The man wore an eye patch and had a head of light brown hair that was tousled too perfectly to not have been set that way on purpose. Aside from the missing eye, his face was handsome with sharp features.

“Gioacchino Farnese,” said Leo looking up at the man, “what are you doing here?” Farnese had recently been brought onto Grand Duke Alberto’s small council, though Leo could not recall his position.

“Why I am here to share some drinks with an old war buddy,” he said, sitting down. The tavern keeper came over as much to inspect his new guest after the semi-rowdy entrance as to take his order. “Another pitcher of whatever he is drinking,” said Farnese jovially, “and I don’t want the pitchers to get empty until I either pass out or tell you to stop refilling them.” He tossed a coin pouch to the innkeeper. The fat man heard the jingling, opened it to take a look, and then grinned broadly. “As you say my Lord,” he replied, chins quivering with excitement before he hurried back into the kitchens.

Leo poured a drink for Farnese. “I have heard you were hired by the Grand Duke.”

“You have heard correctly,” Farnese replied. He took a sip of his wine.

Leo just nodded. He and Farnese were never close. They’d served together in the Armata del Nord through the campaign in France, up to when Leo had lost his leg in Flanders and returned to Italy. Farnese had still had both eyes then, so he must have lost it later on in the war, but Leo didn’t care enough to ask how or when, nor to ask how or why he’d been hired by the Medici. What Leo really wanted to do was tell Farnese to go away and let him drink alone, but then again he’d just offered to pay for wine for the rest of the night. Pantaleono Gattilusio never said no to free wine.

“What have you been up to?” Farnese finally asked, “because you look like shit.”

Leo shrugged, “you know, traveling, drinking…” He trailed off. What have I been doing?

“So you are not otherwise employed?” asked Farnese, wearing his customary smirk, the one that had once caused half the officers in the Armata del Nord to want to stab him.

“For whatever it’s worth, no I am not.”

“Well that’s great to hear,” said Farnese, “because I have a job offer for you.”

“What is it?” asked Leo, his voice dripping with suspicion, “if this is some menial task from you or Alberto, I have no interest. I’d rather waste my time drinking.”

Farnese laughed. “You really have turned into a sour old devil haven’t you?” he said. “What are you so upset about?” he asked, “losing a leg? Being a cripple?” When Farnese said “cripple” he threw his hands up and waved them in an exaggerated manner. “Look at me, I’ve only got one eye now and I’m as happy as ever.”

“There is nothing left of the old me,” said Leo bitterly, “I am a broken man and would prefer to be left in peace.”

“Forget the old you,” said Farnese, “Alberto means to make you anew.”

“How do you mean?” asked Leo.

“He wants you to be his Minister of War,” said Farnese.

“His…his what?”

“You heard me.”

“Why?” Leo could not believe it. Is this some cruel joke? “There are men far more qualified than me,” he protested, “I have never held the command of anything larger than a battalion. There are men who—”

“Alberto has need of you,” Farnese said, cutting Leo off. “I recommended you, might I add.”

“Why?”

“He trusts you,” replied Farnese matter-of-factly, “and he is starting to get just a touch paranoid given all the…rebelliousness. I figured it would put his mind at ease.”

Leo sat there in silence and thought the proposal over. Court life. A purpose. A chance to pursue the career he knew and loved even if he could no longer take the field.

“You should decide,” Farnese said, interrupting the silence. “But before you do, think about this: I am not a sentimental man, but Alberto is. He considers you a dear friend and loyal, he thinks you intelligent and capable as well. He means to reward you for all those things. He means to lift you from being a drunken, sad, broken fool into one of the most powerful men in Italy. Not a bad offer for a crippled orphan.”

“When must I decide by?”

“Tomorrow,” said Farnese, “at noon a carriage will pick you up outside your home and take you to the Palazzo Pitti. The Grand Duke means to have your response in person and then dine with you, regardless of what decision you make. I will say though, both your meal and your life will be greatly improved if you accept.”

Leo took a long drink of wine and closed his eyes. “I accept,” he said.

“Smart man,” replied Farnese, “I would have begun to doubt my skills at identifying men’s talents had you declined.” Farnese refilled both their cups. “Now what do you say we both get drunk and then stumble our way to a whorehouse?”

“That sounds excellent,” said Leo. It did not seem as if money would be an issue for much longer.




_____________________________________________________________________________


Outside Florence

15 October 1602


Carlo Cercignani strode up the main avenue toward his home, the Villa Marignolle, southwest of Florence. Marignolle was close to the capital but outside the walls so he could retire there for peace and quiet whenever he wanted to. Unlike his mentor and old friend, General Campofregoso, Cercignani knew how to have fun and enjoy life at court and take advantage of the myriad diversions offered by the great capital city of Florence. His wife, Marcelle, loved the court life and the gossiping and the luxury goods offered in the city. She had grown up in the hustle and bustle of her native Strasbourg before marrying Cercignani and moving with him to Italy. She quickly fell in love with the lively Tuscan capital.

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The Villa Marignolle

The evening was cool, crisp, and pleasant and a pack of dogs walked alongside him led by two massive shaggy black ones, a group of hounds following in tow. Cerignani walked briskly, leading his old war horse, Tuono, who today was acting more the pack mule, carrying three pheasants and two hares Cercignani had killed on the hunt. On either side of the general were rows of olive trees and to the north of the villa were the grape trees. Wine and olive oil, what else could a man need?

Marcelle was not home that night, she had decided to stay in the city, but Cercignani’s youngest daughter, Veronica would be there to enjoy dinner with him. He employed a small household staff compared to many of his peers: one cook, two maids, four gardeners, one stable hand, and one general maintenance man. He stopped off at the kennels to close in the dogs then left Tuono at the stables. The stable boy, Apollo, was not there, which left Cercignani mildly annoyed. He placed Tuono in his stall then slung his prizes on the his back and carried them to the house. Cercignani’s cook, Fat Oreste, emerged onto the patio, his face twisted in horror. “Signor Cercignani,” he bellowed waddling over to him, “I cannot believe these good-for-nothings have made you carry these animals back yourself.”

“It is no problem,” Cercignani replied, laughing at Oreste’s reaction, “a man should be able to carry his own hunting prizes.” Oreste would hear none of it and a brief struggle ensued as the fat man tried to take all of the animals. Finally, the two agreed that Oreste would carry the pheasants and Cercignani the hares. Once the animals were safely deposited in the kitchens (“I will cook you and little Veronica something sumptuous,” Oreste declared), Cercignani poured himself a glass of wine and grabbed his pipe and went to sit out on his terrace in the front of the villa.

As he was about to sit down, Cercignani saw a rider enter through his gates mounted on a white and gray dappled courser. As he approached, Cercignani recognized the man: Federigo Soderini, the foreign minister of Tuscany and an old friend. Cercignani’s face brightened into a smile. “You have a new horse,” he said.

Soderini pulled the reigns and dismounted. “Indeed, beautiful isn’t she?” Cercignani had to agree. Soderini removed a cloth sack that was tied to the leather saddle, brought it over, and handed it to Cercignani.

“What is this?” asked the general.

“Open it.”

When Cercignani removed the contents, he found a clay jug, painted over with colored stripes. The jug, however, had a hole in the center. “I don’t think this will be of much use to hold water,” he said.

“It isn’t meant to hold water you lout,” replied Soderini, laughing, “it is made to play music. It’s called an udu. One of our ships brought it back from Africa. That was one of the many gifts given to our trade delegation from King Ahenzae I of Benin. His lands are besieged by the Sultan of Bonoma and he wanted our assistance in the form of gold and weapons. Unfortunately, the Grand Duke does not seem very keen on involving ourselves in Africa.”

“And you?” Cercignani asked. His friend had always been an adventurous one, eager to explore new places and meet new peoples. He had once lived among the natives of the Americas and was the architect of the Tuscan colony of Santa Lucia in the Caribbean Sea.

“I think Africa presents a great opportunity,” he said, “I may not live to see it, but mark my words, one day we shall have a great trading post along the African coast. The Kingdom of Benin sits at the mouth of a great river.”

Cercignani studied the instrument. “Well thank you I guess,” was all he could think to say.

“It isn’t for you,” said Soderini, taking the instrument from Cercignani’s hands. “The udu is an instrument played by women. The gift is for Veronica.”

“Well I have not seen her since I returned from my hunt,” Cercignani informed him.

“Then let us go find her,” said Soderini, “and I assume you will invite me to stay for dinner.”

They found Veronica without much trouble, sitting with her legs crossed on the marble balustrade on the northern side of the house, entertaining Apollo, the stable boy, and two of the gardeners. She was barefoot in a dress of dress of light blue cotton, her soft chestnut-colored curls bouncing off her shoulders as she giggled at something Apollo said. The three young men leaned on the low balustrade, their eyes fixed on her. Like a pack of wolves, thought Cercignani. “Shouldn’t you be tending the horses,” he said to Apollo. The boy instantly straightened up, his face reddening. “Ye—yes sir,” he stammered.

“Signor Soderini’s horse is tied out in front of the house,” added Cercignani, “see that it is watered and fed.” The boy ran off. The two gardeners stood there sullenly, seemingly unsure of what to do. “Perhaps you ought to find something to keep yourselves busy as well,” Cercignani said to them. The two quickly stepped off.

“I don’t know why you have to be so mean to them, father,” said Veronica in an annoyed voice. She jumped off the balustrade. She shot her father a dirty look before her face brightened when she looked at Soderini. Just like her mother. “Uncle Federigo!” she squealed with glee, running over and embracing the foreign minister.

“How are you my sweet?” said Soderini. “I have a gift for you.” He handed the udu over to her. Veronica gave the instrument the same puzzled look her father had.

“It’s very pretty but…what is it?”

“It is an instrument from Africa,” he informed her, “women play it in the Kingdom of Benin.”

“Well I think it’s wonderful,” said Veronica.

After Soderini provided Veronica with a tutorial on how to play the udu, they went to the dining room for dinner. Fat Oreste had prepared a quite the meal for them. He started off with a plate of cheeses and finocchiona, a typical Tuscan salami made with fennel. That was followed by a creamy chestnut soup with chunks of duck, crusty hot bread, and greens dressed with apples and pine nuts. Finally, the main course included hare stew made with fennel, carrots, onions, and garlic.

Once they had finished eating, and Veronica went off to her room, Soderini and Cercignani stepped out onto the veranda. The former, as usual, came equipped with the finest tobacco imported from the New World. “From the Chesapeake,” Soderini informed his old friends, “the English seem to have found an ideal place to grow the plant.”

Cercignani lit his pipe, inhaled, and blew out the smoke. “Sometimes I wish I had taken your path,” he said, “travelled, had adventures, all that.”

Soderini shrugged, “it isn’t too late, you know.”

“How do you figure?”

“Well I have many contacts among the merchant companies, and an esteemed hero such as yourself would be welcome.” Soderini took another puff of his pipe. “There are many colonial projects. All of them will be in places with already existing native populations. The Caribbean, the mainland of the Americas, all those places will need defending. Go as a soldier and return a rich man.”

Cercignani thought about it. “No,” he replied, “if I did go I’d want to go as a merchant, a trader, something. I’m tired of fighting, of planning to kill other men. I want to do something peaceful.”

Soderini laughed, “you better hope the old man doesn’t get wind of this.” The “old man” is what the men of the Reggimento Grimaldi called General Pietro di Campofregoso, back when he was just a regimental commander. Now he was the commander of all Tuscan armies and one of the most legendary commanders in the history of Italy.

“Why do you say that?” asked Cercignani.

“Well, I just think he would be susprised, he’s been grooming you to be his successor ever since we were young officers in the Raiders.”

Soderini was right. The “Raiders” was short for “Grimaldi’s Raiders,” the nickname of the Reggimento Grimaldi. Soderini and Cercignani had started out there together, under Campofregoso’s command. Soderini had left after the War of the Religious Leagues to make his fortune in colonial adventures while Cercignani had stuck around. They were both successes, but every time the two were together, Cercignani couldn’t shake the feeling that his friend had made the better choice. Being a soldier is all I really know. “I think I need to find a new career, even as old as I am.”

“That’s not a problem,” said Soderini, “I am heading to Genoa in a week and from there to the New World. You ought to come along. See the tropical paradise of Santa Lucia. Bring Veronica, I’m sure she would love it there.”

Cercignani stopped to think about. Between puffs of his pipe, he watched the smoke swirl in the air. A tropical paradise, he though, a place to settle down. If everything went well, perhaps in a year or two he could convince Marcelle to join him. “I’ll give it some thought,” he said finally, “perhaps it is just what I need.”

“Maybe,” said Soderini. “I do miss it sometimes.”

“What? The military?”

“Yes, the military,” he said, “I mean, I hated it too. Fighting under the command of the Old Man was never an easy time. But boy, were we unstoppable or what?”

Cercignani chuckled and thought back on their time serving together. Was it really so long ago? “I guess we were, weren’t we?”

“Oh yes,” said Soderini, “screaming up and down the Rhine Valley. Sweeping away all resistance. Who could stop us?”

“Well we did lose the war,” Cercignani reminded his friend.

Soderini waved that detail away. “We did not lose. Plus,” he continued, “it’s about the journey, not the result.”

“I suppose,” said Cercignani. And what a journey it has been. Cercignani was not sure if he had it in him to leave the military life. It really was all he knew. Even his son Marco had followed in his footsteps and was a captain in the Black Prince's own regiment. Still, it was nice to imagine an alternative. A world where he did not have to preoccupy himself with the most efficient ways of killing other men or how to prevent his own from dying.

“Let me tell you about the last time I was in Santa Lucia,” Soderini began, shifting subjects to one of his myriad stories. Cercignani smiled, leaned back, and listened. Perhaps, some day, he would have stories of Santa Lucia as well.
 
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JerseyGiants88

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That last update took forever but I hope everyone enjoys it. I started it without a clear idea of where I wanted it to go so I just tried to add some depth to the characters and events. I hope it worked out. On a personal note, we are getting ready to wrap up our deployment in the coming weeks so hopefully once I get back home I will have more time to write and get updates cranked out a bit more regularly. The next one will be another history book chapter. Thanks as always to all my readers. Hope everyone is doing well.
 

Idhrendur

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That was a wonderful update to have after a long break. I'm looking forward to future ones.
 

roverS3

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Another excellent update, when the narrative is this engaging, I don't mind the wait... Quality over quantity as they say... Glad to hear Margherita is all right, and now working towards the improvement of Florence.
 
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JerseyGiants88

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Thank you everyone for your patience. Just as an update of what is going on with me: I got back from my deployment and, two days after getting back home, my wife gave birth to our second son, so things have been quite chaotic. Accordingly, this has given me very little time to work on this AAR. Things are beginning to settle down now that my son is past the one month mark and we have wrapped up our post-deployment tasks so I will be able to resume work on the AAR shortly. I already have the next several chapters and vignettes mapped out in my head and I think they should be pretty good. I am excited to get back to writing. Once again, thank you for your patience and thanks for reading.
 

Judean Zealot

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Congratulations!

I'm so happy for you that your return was so well-timed! Anyways, I'm really looking forward to your future content! I know many have said this before, but your's is by far the best EU 4 AAR around. Thanks!