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Chapter 5: Turbulent Days, 1454-1456

The period after the Tuscan Wars saw Florence expand its influence and Cosimo de’ Medici increase the power of the Gonfaloniere and also of his own family. However, the following years would be more turbulent for the Republic of Florence as events both within and without combined to remind its leaders that they must always be ready for anything. That is not to say that everything was bad. The latter half of the 1450s saw major advances for the city continue as well.

The Gonfaloniere faced a difficult choice in 1455 that would force him to decide between his family and the wellbeing of the republic.

Cosimo’s oldest son, Piero “the Gouty”, was both the president of the Medici Bank and the Master of Mint for Florence. This setup, established by Cosimo in order to both put someone he could trust in charge of the state’s gold as well as to put his son in a position of power and influence, created a situation ripe for corruption and abuse. In the winter of 1454 rumors began to circle that Piero de’ Medici and several of his associates were involved in scandalous and criminal activity at the bank and the mint.


Piero de’ Medici, nicknamed “the Gouty” due to his ill health, was the president of the Medici Bank and Master of Finance for the Republic of Florence

Piero and a group of his friends, some of whom were also officers of the Medici Bank, had been using the Florentine mints to produce coins which they or the financial institutions they ran then pocketed. The list of offenses that would be brought to trial was a long one. When the longtime Medici rival, the Spadolini family, learned of the allegations, they spread the word to all of Florence. They organized a coalition of anti-Medici noble families to ensure that charges would be brought against Piero and his associates. They also tried to implicate Giovanni de’ Medici, Cosimo’s youngest son, as part of the scheme but these claims turned out to be baseless. Giovanni while close with his brother, was not much for business or politics and spent most of his time chasing women, hunting, and being drunk.

Cosimo was shocked by the allegations. He felt betrayed by Piero. He had done everything to set him up for success and instead of being responsible, his son had exploited the situation to turn a profit. He was prepared to have Peiro fired as both Master of Mints and president of the Medici Bank. However, the attacks from the Spadolini and other rival families against the Medici, especially the implication of Giovanni, changed his mind. He resolved to defend his son and do everything in his power to have his name cleared.

Through the spring and summer of 1455, the various parties maneuvered to make the case turn out favorably for them. Trials of “high public men”, the description for high office holders within the government, were presided over by a three judge panel. One judge was selected by the Gonfaloniere, in this case Cosimo himself, one by the Assembly, the group of nobles, merchants, and military leaders who formed a de facto legislature for Florence, and one was elected by the “people” of Florence (however, only those who owned property or were in a guild were eligible to vote; members of the Assembly could not also vote as part of “the people”). Cosimo selected Pierluigi D’Agoberti, an old friend and business partner with little legal experience but a strong sense of loyalty to the Medici. He was also Piero’s godfather.

The stickier situation would develop from the selection of the other two judges. The situation in the Assembly was complicated. It had just over 400 members. Most of them were supporters of Cosimo and a great deal of them had benefitted greatly under his rule. The opposition faction, led by Carlo Spadolini and Iacopo Neri, was small and not very well organized. However, they were dedicated to seeing the Medici stopped. Spadolini, Neri, and several of their allies gave speeches in the Assembly that praised Cosimo’s rule but argued that Piero was a criminal and that if he succeeded his father as Gonfaloniere the republic itself would be threatened. They also produced letters from Piero to several of his partners in crime describing how he would certainly succeed his father as Gonfaloniere and ensure that they were given privileged positions. The opposition had a certain moral high ground as well. The candidate for judge proposed by the pro-Cosimo side was another Medici associate, Rodrigo Casalini, with almost no legal experience. On the other hand, the anti-Cosimo side nominated Giuseppe Profondavalle, one of the most celebrated and respected judges in Florence.

Many of Cosimo’s allies were not thrilled about voting for the widely disliked Casalini but did not want to cross Cosimo. However, in the end, the cajoling and persuasion by the anti-Cosimo side worked. After all, the succession of a son to the position of Gonfaloniere did threaten the freedom of the republic.

The elections for the third judge were held on 1 September. The law allowing citizens to vote for judges in cases involving the state or government officials, dated back to the Ciompi Revolt in 1378. Electing judges had been one of the main demands of the rebels and, while the nobles were unwilling to consider it for private criminal cases where they feared the wrath of the population turned against them, they were willing to offer a mild compromise in public cases.

The man chosen as the third judge was Amerigo Cantacenere, a young lawyer who had won acclaim representing merchants and artisans in suits against noblemen. The vote was widely believed to have been a rebuke against the Spadolini-led opposition, made up mostly of noblemen, but Cantaceneri would turn out to vote strictly on the evidence presented.


The trial of Piero de’ Medici and his associates was a sensational event in Florence

The trial of Piero de’ Medici began on 21 September 1455. He faced three charges of theft, two of bribery, and two high treason against the republic. It was a rowdy, raucous affair, with the crowd overflowing out onto the street. Spectators inside the courtroom would shout to those outside to keep them current on the proceedings. Piero, who claimed to be suffering another attack of gout, was brought in on a stretcher. The opposition claimed that it was an act to garner sympathy. At first, the crowd appeared loyal to Piero and his six co-defendants. However, as the evidence and testimony against them began to mount, the tide started to turn. Additionally, Piero and his friends did not acquit themselves with the most grace throughout the trial. At several points, the defendants attempted to shout down and insult the main prosecutor, Luigi Girolamo, who was from the countryside and not of noble stock. On another occasion, a riot nearly started when a number of peasant girls were brought into the court to testify that several of the defendants, though not Piero, had “seduced them and tricked them into committing sinful acts,” in the words of Girolamo. As the women finished their testimony, the defendants called them harlots. This sent the crowd into a frenzy and only the arrival of an army regiment managed to restore order.

On 6 October the case concluded and the three judges retired to make their decision. Two days later, they reconvened the court. By a 2 to 1 margin, Profondavalle and Cantaceneri voting for conviction and D’Agoberti voting for acquital, Piero de’ Medici and his co-defendants were found guilty on five counts for theft and bribery. However, all three judges voted for acquittal on the charges of high treason. The defendants were sentenced to public flogging and 5 years in prison. Due to Piero’s ill health, his sentence was changed to five years of house arrest in addition to an oath which promised he would never again hold a political office in the Republic of Florence. The crowd, which had started out supporting the defendants, cheered wildly and carried Luigi Girolamo out of the courtroom on their shoulders.

When Cosimo heard the news he was devastated. He had purposely stayed aloof from the proceedings but emotionally he was pulling for his son’s acquittal. He still had the option of pardoning him and he strongly considered it. However, his closest advisors implored the Gonfaloniere to not pardon his son and the other defendants. They argued that such a move would outrage the people, tarnish his legacy, and potentially lead to a revolt. This time, Cosimo followed their advice. He gave a speech to the assembly on 13 October declaring his support for the verdict and told Piero to announce his withdrawal from public life. The most sensational trial in the history of Florence to that point was over. Cosimo turned his focus back to ruling the republic.

Four months later, in February of 1456, another crisis hit the republic. A coalition of noble families in the province of Lucca had risen up and were demanding independence for their city. Led by their old Doge, Matteo Gattilusio, they had an army of about 10,000 men. However, they were either poorly trained new recruits or veterans of the old army of Lucca, who were now too old for real fighting. The conspirators also did not act quickly enough to seize the city itself of Lucca itself or its newly built fort. As a result, the city garrison was able to hold onto it, forcing the rebel army to fight the Florentine out in the open.


The Lucchese Revolt of 1456 presented the first real challenge to Florentine authority in its newly acquired provinces

The ensuing Battle of Lucca on 23 February was surprisingly bloody and the Lucchesi fought better than expected. The two sides lost nearly 8,000 men between them. When Grand Captain Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso and his men finally broke the Lucchese line and forced their surrender, the Florentine military leader was willing to grant lenient terms out of respect for their bravery and resolve. He immediately pardoned any of the rank and file men so long as they swore an oath of loyalty to Florence and disavowed any future efforts at violent insurrection. As for the leaders of the revolt, del Rosso told them that he would be forced to bring them to Florence for trial but would plead for lenient sentences against them. In the trial that followed, all of the leaders of the insurrection were found guilty but, at the insistence of Grand Captain del Rosso, were spared execution. They were stripped of their lands and titles and forced to swear an oath of loyalty.

The period of 1454-1456 also saw a sharp increase in tension with the Papal State. On 18 October 1454, Rome annexed Urbino, thereby increasing its power in central Italy and the Pope’s direct control. Then, on 6 February of 1455, agents of the Pope were discovered in Florence laying the groundwork for false claims on Florentine provinces and attempting to rally rival nobles against the Medici. Even the appointment of the Archbishop of Florence, Ludovico Trevisano, to the curia was met with only mild approval. Cosimo de’ Medici saw this as an effort by Pope Clemens VIII to gain more influence over the republic by co-opting a cleric who had, for the most part, opposed Papal involvement in worldly politics. However, as Florence and Rome stared off at each other across their long mutual border, it remained unclear if either side was willing to risk open war.



Archbishop Ludovico Trevisano of Florence was made cardinal in January of 1456

Despite the difficulty of the previous three years, the people of Florence still loved Cosimo de’ Medici. His projects for the improvements of the capital still continued and, for the most part, the people were doing well. On 11 November 1456, he was re-elected for yet another term as Gonfaloniere of the Republic of Florence. Following his electoral victory, Cosimo de’ Medici sought to put the troubles of his previous term behind him and looked eagerly toward the future.
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Historical Vignette 1: The Citizens v. Piero de' Medici: Florentine Crime Story

The loud talking and shouting died down to a murmur as the three judges re-entered the courtroom. The whole room was now focused on the three men, none moreso than the defendants. Among them was Piero de’ Medici, Master of Mints, president of the Medici Bank, and son of the Gonfaloniere of Florence. He, more than any of the others, was the one who drew the large crowd.

The judges took their seats at the front of the large room. They were, from left to right, Pierluigi D’Agoberti, Giuseppe Profondavalle, and Amerigo Cantacenere. Profondavalle was the oldest and most experienced jurist among them and because of that he was made head judge. It was his duty to report the verdict. The septuagenarian lawyer was one of the most respected men in the republic and, they all hoped, the crowd would trust his judgments to be fair, whether they agreed with them or not.

D’Agoberti was probably the most nervous. He was a close friend of the Medici, one of Cosimo’s inner circle since he first got into politics in the late 1420s. That’s why the Gonfaloniere had chosen him to be judge. And D’Agoberti knew that every person in that room knew that that was why he had been chosen to be a judge. He was there to vote in favor of Piero and his comrades, and that he had done, voting for acquittal on all counts. His colleague Cantacenere, had voted for guilt on all counts. Once they had both reported their votes to Profondavalle, the old man simply nodded and the three headed to the courtroom. Neither of the other judges knew how Profondavalle was going to vote. D’Agoberti was hoping he voted those idiots guilty. God only knew what the crowd would do if they were acquitted. He was, at this point, in fear for his life.

Cantacenere, for his part, sat back satisfied. He knew this crowd, he could feel their energy, and he knew that they were now in favor of guilt for the defendants. Moreover, he was morally sure of himself. Perhaps, the treason charges were a bit excessive, but there was good evidence showing that the illegal minting of money had been used to benefit foreign powers, including Ferrara, a Florentine rival. And as for the other charges, only a Medici stooge like D’Agoberti could think they weren’t guilty. All there was left to do was sit back and hear the cheer of the crowd once the guilty verdict was announced. It took Cantacenere back to his days in the provincial town halls, where he defended the rights of the peasants against rapacious noblemen. There, the crowds were always overwhelmingly of the lower classes and when he could secure of victory for one of their own, they showed their appreciation. He was almost envious of the prosecutor, Luigi Girolamo. He would be their hero, feted throughout the city for days for locking away some over privileged noblemen. The judge exhaled. Once this whole mess was over, he though to himself, it was time to get out of Florence. He thought of his three young daughters, no need for them to grow up in this cesspool. Pisa, that's where he wanted to go. Close to the coast, perhaps he could become partners with his brother in his shipping business. He closed his eyes and pictured the warm sun beaming down on him and the sound of the warm waters of the Tyrrhenian Sea lapping against the shore.

The prosecutor, Luigi Girolamo, sat glumly in his chair staring at the judges as they filed in. What is the point? he thought to himself. He had just argued the greatest case of his life, presented evidence and testimony that proved, beyond any possible doubt, that Piero de’ Medici and his cronies had manipulated the Florentine mints to enrich themselves and their friends. There was no getting around it. Even his character witnesses had been devastating. He thought, at one point, that the case would end prematurely with the defendants lynched when they had insulted those country girls. Girolamo felt guilty about that actually. Those poor, innocent young women were not meant to be subjected to the heinous moral pit that was Florence. But yet, they also had a right to point their fingers at those vile men who had taken their honor. They would never be able to get justice for those crimes, but at least they could contribute to bringing their assailants down by other means. But, alas, it wouldn’t matter anyway. There was no way in hell that in a court in Florence the son of the Gonfaloniere would be convicted. Especially if his name was Medici. Girolamo threw his hat down on the long table in front of him, reached into his coat, pulled out his flask, and took a slug of wine. Might as well start getting drunk now, he thought.

Piero de’ Medici had a feeling of dread. This was the end, he thought to himself. Either he would be found guilty and banished to prison and then irrelevance, or found not guilty and lynched by the mob. Either way, he mused, at least it would make for a good story. The son of the Gonfaloniere executed for treason. It was like a Greek tragedy. His friends didn’t seem to be as worried. Azzo Altoponte, seated to his right, leaned over and whispered, “I say tonight, once we get out of here, we get some wine, some tavern girls, and have us a big party.” Piero just glared at him. It was this attitude that had gotten them into trouble. Altoponte saw the look and turned back toward the front of the room. It was that attitude that had the crowd ready to kill them. Piero was filled with hatred for his friends but, most of all, for himself. Why, he thought, had he been so stupid. His father had paved the road to greatness for him and he threw it away. For what? For some money? His family was already rich. No, he continued, thoughts racing through his head, it was to be liked. These idiots sitting around him, the ones that would share his fate, they were his friends, whatever that word really meant. He had wanted to make them happy, to be the one who was owed favors. And yes, they certainly owed him. But now they would all be ruined, together. Any hopes for a career in Florentine politics for any of them were now up in flames. Piero looked at the judges then turned and looked over the sea of faces in the large room. Maybe, just maybe, there was a chance that the judges would acquit them and that the city guard would arrive quickly enough to prevent their murder. Maybe, there was still a glimmer of hope.

Giuseppe Profondavalle cleared his throat and stood up. “Citizens of Florence,” he said slowly, purposefully, “this court was assembled to determine the guilt or innocence of the defendants, these men seated here before you. Prior to announcing our decision, the court pleads with the assembled citizens to respect the decision according to the ancient laws of Florence and our long tradition of republican virtue.” He paused and cleared his throat again. He thought of how many trials he had been involved with over the course of his life, of how many verdicts he had read as a judge. Yet none would be remembered the way today’s verdict would be remembered. He had tried not to think about it to that point, but now he felt the weight of this judgment. He looked over the assembled crowd. All of the expectant eyes in the room were fixed on him. For one of the few times throughout the entire proceeding, there was almost total silence.

Profondavalle took a deep breath: “On the charges of theft, we the judges find the defendants guilty--” He was instantly cut off by a loud roar from the crowd. Objects began flying through the air, generally directed at the defendants. To his right, Amerigo Cantacenere stood up quickly and yelled at the crowd to be quiet. Surprisingly, the noise died down. The elder judge nodded to his younger colleague and continued, “on the charges of bribery, we find the defendants guilty--” Another loud roar. The scene repeated itself again. This time Cantacenere rose and threatened to expel everyone. Once again, the noise died down at least to the point where Profondavalle could hear himself think. Just wait until they hear what I say next, he thought to himself. “On the charges of high treason against the republic, we find the defendants not guilty--” This time the crowd booed a little but, to Profondavalle’s surprise (certainly a welcome surprise) there was no outburst of anger. Perhaps, he mused, the citizenry deserved more credit than he tended to give them. Perhaps, they understood that the treason charges were ridiculous, and that justice had been served.

With that, Profondavalle slammed his gavel. The case was over.

When Giuseppe Profondavalle had risen to speak, Luigi Girolamo had buried his face in his hands. He couldn’t bear to look at the judges. He knew the defendants would be acquitted. But he also knew he had presented the better case and still hoped he’d win. So when he heard the judge say the word “guilty” he still thought that it was just his wishful thinking. Only the roar of the crowd, which shook him physically, caused him to look up. Glancing to his right he saw the shocked looks of some of the defendants. One burst into tears. Only Piero de’ Medici remained stoic. Had he heard the verdict? Girolamo kept looking at him as the subsequent verdicts were read. The eldest son of the Gonfaloniere’s only reaction was a very subtle eye roll at the announcement of the not guilty verdict for treason. That one had been a reach, thought Girolamo to himself. He looked down and began gathering his papers and belongings.

He suddenly became aware of a wall of men closing around him. He looked up, slightly in shock. Was this the Medici goons sent to punish him? When he looked around though the faces staring back were beaming. They were cheering him even. He felt his body get lifted up. He tried to reach for his things but it was in vain. He stared back with horror as he watched his flask, still half full, disappear behind him. The joyous crowd carried him out of the courtroom and into the street. He heard then chanting his name. The whole situation seemed completely unreal. He didn’t even feel as if he was in his own body. Then he saw the sign on the building the crowd was rapidly moving towards: La Vechia Bottiglia, One of the best taverns in Florence. This day would end well after all, the prosecutor thought to himself.

Back inside the courtroom Piero de’ Medici sat quietly. At least he had not been torn apart by the crowd. He had promised himself that no matter what the judges said, he wouldn’t show any emotion. This, at least, he had achieved. The same could not be said for some of his co-defendants, who were wailing in sadness and terror or shouting curses and insults at nobody in particular. The last image of him as a public man would be a stoic one. He and his fellows had avoided execution, that was a good start. Now he would just have to survive the five years in prison. He shuddered at the thought. The dungeons Florence used to lock up her criminals were not pleasant. He thought of his attacks of gout and other assorted maladies, they would be nearly intolerable down there, and would likely get worse. He instinctively reached into his pocket and grasped the small wooden box that held an assortment of medicines and potions to dull pain. He smiled to himself. At least he could get an unlimited supply of those.

Amerigo Cantacenere was one of the last men to leave the courtroom. He wanted to avoid the chaotic scenes outside. It would be unbecoming of a judge to be seen participating in the revelry. He exited through a back door and snuck down an alleyway. He twisted and turned his way through the winding Florentine streets. Finally, he reached the Piazza del Duomo. He looked up at the enormous dome and then walked around the back side of the church. He stopped and leaned against the wall. It was starting to get quite dark outside and he relaxed a bit, confident that at this point it was unlikely anyone would recognize him.

Out of the corner of his eye he caught some movement in the shadows. A hooded figure approached him and leaned against the wall next to him. “We have heard the good news,” said the figure to him quietly, “we commend your good work today Signor Cantacenere, you have done a great thing for our fair republic.”

“As I told you when you first came to me,” replied Cantacenere, “I just want the republic to remain strong. Plus, as much as I wanted to see de’ Medici convicted, the evidence really was there, I didn’t have to bend logic one bit to find him guilty.”

“Nevertheless,” said the figure, “a lesser man may have bent to the pressure of pleasing the Medici. You stood tall for the republic today. That will not be forgotten. My friends and I will be watching your political career with great interest.”

“Political career?” asked Cantacenere, puzzled.

“Of course,” said the man, “with the popularity you gained today you are surely positioned for a great career. When you decide to begin, present this coin at the Fiore D’Orato inn. After that, we will find you.” With that he turned and walked away.

Cantacenere spat on the ground and shook his head. These noblemen were so foolish and they took themselves far too seriously. What was the point of meeting in the shadows of the Duomo for such a banal conversation? And a coin to be presented at some inn? He had half expected to be murdered, at least that would have been worth the trip and the false shroud of gravitas his hooded conversation partner had wrapped himself in. Cantacenere couldn’t quite place what faction or group this man came from, but they were all basically the same as far as he was concerned. He looked down at the coin he had just been given. He thought of the his wife and daughters and also of his brother in Pisa. Perhaps it really was time for a change of scenery. He started walking down Via dei Servi away from the Duomo. There was a man sitting by the side of a building begging. Cantacenere looked at him, pulled the coin out of his pocket, and tossed it to the man.

“Thank you sir,” said the beggar smiling through his dirty beard.

“No thank you,” replied Cantacenere smiling back, “that coin will make you the next Gonfaloniere. Be sure to serve Florence with honor.” With that he turned and walked off into the darkness.
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Chapter 6: The Great Reforms, 1456-1460

One of Gonfaloniere Cosimo de’ Medici’s greatest reforms was the creation of the Council of Experts. This body was to be made up of the best minds in Florence and to stay above the political scrums that occurred in the capital. Their mission was to advise the Gonfaloniere, whoever he may be, on the best ways to advance Florence’s long term interests, whether in governance, trade, diplomacy, or the art of war. The body would be composed of seven members: two military commanders, one merchant, one artist, one architect, one artisan, and one farmer. The fact that it held two military men meant that there would also be a major influence pulling the Council in a martial direction, which was a major focus point for Cosimo. However, he also wanted them to be able to advise on other matters as well. At their first meeting, the Gonfaloniere told them to avoid thinking in the moment, to think for the future, to develop “national ideas that will shape Florence for years to come.”


The Council of Experts was created in 1456 to advise the Gonfaloniere of long term plans for the republic

The second half of the 1450s saw the formalization of the “party system” which had de facto existed in Florence for centuries. Fighting between the Guelphs and Ghibellines, and between the Black and White Guelphs, had plagued Florence for generations, though it had subsided since the rise of the Medici. However, Cosimo sought to put the old violence and chaos aside forever by formalizing each party. Instead of shadowy backroom dealing and plots that often involved murder, they could have it out on the floor of the Assembly and in the Piazze of the capital; in other words, in the open. Cosimo assembled the leaders of each of the three factions: Carlo Spadolini of the Black Guelphs, Raniero Grimaldi of the White Guelphs, and Azzo del Conte of the Ghibellines. He met with them privately and explained his intent.

The four men signed the Agreement of San Giovanni, after the city’s patron saint, on 9 October 1457. It formalized the establishment of the political parties and went into detail about how proceedings in the Assembly would be conducted from that point on. It even assigned specific seating areas to each party. Crucially for the future of Florentine politics, the agreement also specified how new parties could be brought into being and existing parties liquidated. The politics of Florence would never be the same.


Left to Right: Banners of the Black Guelphs, White Guelphs, and Ghibellines

Grand Captain Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso was not interested in the internal politics of Florence. His driving focus was to improve the quality and readiness of the Florentine army. He sought to maintain the momentum they had earned following their victory in the Tuscan Wars and build upon it.

One of the first reforms that he introduced was the standardization of weaponry in his ranks. He ordered that all of his infantrymen’s pikes should be made to the same length. This would allow for all training and tactics be the same. Additionally, should weapons need to be passed off or regiments reconstituted, all of the men would have the same equipment. Overall, the new pikes would improve tactical flexibility, as troops and even entire units could be used to plug gaps that developed in the line at a moment’s notice and using the same tactics.


The standardization of weapons improved the Florentine army’s tactical flexibility

Grand Captain del Rosso’s reforms were not purely in the realm of weapons and equipment however. He had learned over the course of his career that the mental and intellectual aspects of war could count as much, if not more, than the physical. For one, he had noticed that some of the best field commanders came from among the commoners or lesser nobility. However, at the time, one’s social rank and political connections were more likely to lead to promotion and an upwardly mobile career than courage or skill on the battlefield. Too many times, del Rosso had seen brave men fight and die and suffer because some privileged nobleman’s son was given a command he had no right to hold. Del Rosso did not, however, hate the nobility. Indeed, though a commoner himself, some of the best and bravest commanders he had fought under had been noblemen. His goal was just to ensure that the status of commoner or a lack of political connections or wealth did not bar one from promotion. He wanted to ensure that the most important commands were held by his best, brightest, and bravest men.

Accordingly, he changed the way promotions were determined in the Florentine army. Whenever a man conducted himself well in peacetime, or with gallantry and distinction in wartime, these actions would be logged in a unit’s diary. When new men were needed to fill the ranks above them their records would reflect on who was most deserving. This did not remove nepotism and favoritism of nobles altogether, but it noticeably increased the number of commoners and men of lesser means that were able to gain promotion and command. This had a twofold benefit for the army. First, it increased morale, as men realized that their hard work and sacrifice could actually earn them reward. Second, because it made the army now a viable route for social advancement for commoners as well as noblemen, recruitment became easier and there was an increase in the number of men willing to serve under arms.


Grand Captain del Rosso ensured that merit, not just social status and wealth, led to promotion

A second major reform made by the Grand Captain for the intellectual life of the army was the establishment of military education. This began by introducing debriefs which the army would conduct after any training exercise they did. Later, during war, these debriefs would prove invaluable to gaining a better understanding of the enemy and their own strong points and weaknesses. This was especially valuable when campaigning alongside allied armies, as the Florentine troops were to do in a few years’ time. Initially del Rosso developed the debriefs and military education only for his highest ranking commanders but over time it would trickle down. The Grand Captain’s concept of military education went beyond just debriefs however. It included veteran soldiers teaching the newer recruits about battle and lessons learned and best practices. It became a part of the whole force. When the Florentine army went back to war, these new advances in preparation for combat would prove crucial to building strong morale and tactical effectiveness.


Del Rosso introduced the concept of professional military education to the army of Florence

Del Rosso’s army reforms would soon be put to the test. The situation in Europe was beginning to heat up. Tension between the Kingdom of France under Charles VII and the Duchy of Burgundy under Charles I de Bourgogne had been bubbling for many years. On 30 December 1458 France caused them to boil over when it declared war and launched a winter offensive. The powerful French war machine went full force against the Burgundians who held their own in the back and forth conflict. For over a year the two sides fought to a stalemate. Then, on 8 February 1460, Duke Charles I and his entire bodyguard were killed leading a charge into the heart of the French line at the Battle of Cambrai. With the death of Charles I, the Bourgogne line ended, leaving the Habsburgs as the next in line to inherit the Duchy of Burgundy. The French, exhausted from the short but brutal war with Burgundy, agreed to take a few provinces from the Burgundian inheritance in exchange for peace with Austria. The political map of Europe was altered significantly. Soon however, the Habsburgs would be defending their southern border, rather than their western provinces, from invasion.


Europe after the partition of the Duchy of Burgundy between France and the Habsburgs

On 11 November 1460, Cosimo de’ Medici was re-elected to the office of Gonfaloniere. It would be his final electoral victory. In the ensuing celebration, he received a message: the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand I, requested for him to come to Vienna to celebrate Christmas. In all his years as the ruler of Florence, he had never received an invite to the Habsburg capital. He summoned his closest advisor: Giovanni Santacroce. He would accompany Cosimo to Vienna for what was surely to be a negotiation.

The three arrived in the Habsburg capital on 23 December. As a gift to the Emperor, Cosimo brought a painting by the great Florentine artist, Piero della Francesca with him to Vienna. Emperor Ferdinand was still only 14 years old, and the Holy Roman Empress Eleanor was in charge of his regency. After the initial pomp and circumstance of the Gonfaloniere’s arrival, the two sides got to the negotiating table. The Florentine delegation was quite surprised when Ladislaus I, King of Hungary, arrived as well. The Hungarians, with the backing of the Habsburgs, wanted to declare war on Venice, an ally of Florence and they wanted to ensure that Florence would stay out of the war. Assuming that the small Italian state had no interest in getting involved in a full scale war with two major powers, they began outlining how Florence would benefit from the destruction of Venetian power. The Gonfaloniere however, was not ready to betray his alliance and the honor of his republic. The Florentine delegation informed the Emperor and the King of Hungary that, should the Most Serene Republic of Venice be attacked by any foreign power, Florence would honor her alliance.

Despite the rebuke of their offer, King Ladislaus insisted Cosimo and his party stay in Vienna for Christmas. The Florentines were treated to a sumptuous feast and dazzling entertainment appropriate for a big Habsburg celebration. Despite the now near certainty of war between their two countries, the next day King Ladislaus of Hungary and Cosimo de’ Medici of Tuscany talked, drank wine, and debated a wide range of issues, including philosophy, the future of the arts in Italy, and the importance of studying the classics, during their time together. As the Florentines left Vienna on 27 December, Cosimo joked to Santacroce, “the Magyar King and I got along as if we were old friends these past days; it is such a shame we will soon be trying to kill each other.”


Portrait of Ladislaus V Postumus, King of Hungary and Croatia

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Ooh, Cosimo is going to be playing in the big leagues now.
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War. Against one of the mightiest countries in Europe? Daring.;)
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Chapter 7: The League of Verona, 1460-1462

On 4 January 1461, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Archduchy of Austria declared war on the Most Serene Republic of Venice. Austria and Hungary were led respectively by King Ladislaus V “Postumus” and the newly crowned Emperor Ferdinand I, both members of the House of Habsburg, although from different branches of the family. The Hungarians wanted to cement themselves as a major European power and wanted the Venetian provinces of Istria and Dalmatia on the eastern side of the Adriatic Sea for themselves.

The Venetians, under Doge Vitale Schio, had been fighting a rearguard action in the eastern Mediterranean in the face of an increasingly assertive and powerful Ottoman Empire. The decline of Venetian influence in the Aegean Sea made Istria and, especially Dalmatia, all the more important. The Venetians could not afford to see these key provinces fall to the rival Hungarians. They issued a call to arms to their allies and Doge Schio organized a war council in Verona.


Venice issued a call to arms to its allies, Florence and Aragon

On 17 February Joan II, Queen of Aragon and Naples, and Gonfaloniere Cosimo de’ Medici of Florence, along with their top military commanders, met with the Venetians in the city of Verona. During the month and half that had elapsed between the Hungarian declaration of war and the meeting, the Papal State had entered the war on the Habsburg side. Pope Innocent VIII, despite Rome’s longstanding rivalry with the Holy Roman Emperors over Italy, had decided that the Venetians represented the greatest threat to him. This nearly caused a crisis for Venice. Queen Joan had been working for many years to increase Aragon’s influence with the Papacy and saw the Pope’s entry into the war as a threat to her progress on that front. The Venetians were forced to recognize all Aragonese claims in Italy in order to keep them happy and in the alliance.


Joan II, Queen of Aragon and Naples, with her husband Fernando, Duke of Sardinia

The entry of the Papal States into the war caused some domestic political concerns in Florence as well. The Black Guelphs, from whom Cosimo drew his strongest support, were pro-Pope and opposed entering the war now that Rome was involved. This, added to the already existing Ghibelline opposition to the war, based on their pro-Imperial sentiments, meant that only the White Guelphs remained in favor of honoring the alliance with Venice. Fortunately for Cosimo and the pro-war faction, Carlo Spadolini, the leader of the Black Guelphs and longtime Medici rival, came up with a compromise. Cosimo's old enemy despised the Holy Roman Empire and agreed to rally his party to the pro-war camp in exchange for promises that no Papal land would be taken as part of the peace. Cosimo, who was not particularly concerned with the Pope, agreed. While he left Florence for Verona, Spadolini worked tirelessly to bring the Black Guelphs to the pro-war side. The political maneuvering worked, and the Assembly passed a declaration supporting Venice and the war effort.

With the issue of fighting the Papal State resolved, both Aragon and Florence were able to put aside the differences between them, primarily related to Neapolitan territorial claims on Florentine provinces, to fight on the Venetian side. Both feared increased Habsburg influence in Italy and saw this conflict as an excellent opportunity to nip the family's Italian ambitions in the bud. The three rulers finally declared the creation of the League of Verona and all swore to fight to the end and to see the Austrian and Hungarian armies expelled from Italy. The allies selected Grand Captain Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso of Florence as the overall commander of the allied armies. While each state would ultimately retain control of their forces, Aragon and Venice both agreed to give del Rosso leeway in tactical and strategic decisionmaking. The Aragonese and Venetian military commanders had read the Florentine soldier’s treatises on war and strategy and felt he was the man best positioned to lead them to victory. This decision would turn out to be a good one. Grand Captain del Rosso was about to lead one of the great military campaigns of the Fifteenth Century.


The Coats of Arms of the members of the League of Verona (from left to right): Naples, Aragon, Venice, and Florence

The first major battle of the war took place at Brescia on 1 October 1461. Grand Captain del Rosso led an army of troops from Florence and Aragon against a joint Austro-Hungarian-Papal force under the command of General Ludwig Buseck. The Austrian commander expected to make quick work of his foes but the well disciplined Florentines and their Aragonese allies repelled repeated charges until unleashing a well coordinated counterattack that broke the enemy line. This forces the Habsburg armies to withdraw from Italy and quickly turned the war’s momentum in the League’s favor. When news of the defeat reached the 15 year old Emperor Ferdinand I in Vienna he threw a tantrum and demanded to have General Buseck executed until his advisors calmed him and convinced him to revoke the order of execution. In Florence, news of the victory sparked spontaneous celebrations in the streets. For the first time, Florentine soldiers had met the army of a great power and had emerged victorious.


The Battle of Brescia was the first major engagement of the War of the League of Verona

Grand Captain del Rosso did not stop to rest on his laurels however. He decided to press the advantage and drive all remaining enemy forces from Italy. His troops attacked and defeated a Hungarian army outside Treviso and then pursued them into Friuli, where the League army was able to trap them in a valley and force the surrender of the entire enemy host. Del Rosso pushed his troops from Florence and Aragon hard and, against the advice of many of his subordinate commanders, did not stop the campaign for the winter. Instead, he pushed on into the province of Istria where the Hungarians were laying siege to the Venetian port of Trieste. On 4 January 1462 the Florentine-Aragonese army attacked them and drove them away from the city, lifting the siege. Del Rosso finally ordered the advance to stop and for his troops to dig in, rest, and refit. They were also joined by a contingent of Knights Hospitaller under the command of the capable old soldier, Rupertus Garzez, Grand Master of the Knights, bringing their strength to nearly 30,000 men. The Austrians under General Buseck attempted a counterattack on 15 February but this was repulsed after brief but bloody fighting.


The Austrian counterattack at the Second Battle of Trieste failed

At the beginning of March, troops from Venice and Siena met up with del Rosso’s army and the League decided to advance into Austria. The army, now 56,000 strong, wanted to bring the war into the heart of the Habsburg possessions in an attempt to break their will to fight. On 1 April they crossed the border into Austria and defeated a small enemy force near Krain. They then crossed into the province of Karnten, where reports began trickling in of a large Habsburg army in the vicinity of Klagenfurt. Del Rosso, undaunted, pushed his men further north. Garzez took a small cavalry force ahead of the main body to scout the enemy positions. On 7 May, they found the Austro-Hungarian force about 30 kilometers west of Klagenfurt in the town of Kostenberg, guarding the approach between Lakes Ossiach and Worth. The enemy force of about 45,000 men was commanded by the King of Hungary himself.

Del Rosso decided to split his force. He had Grand Master Garzez take 10,000 men around the north side of Lake Ossiach, through Stadt, and over the mountains where they approached Feldkirchen in Kärnten. While that was happening, del Rosso took the main force, now numbering about 45,000 directly east to fix Ladislaus’s army at Kostenberg and prevent them from trapping Garzez. The Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller then had his men wreak havoc on the undefended town of Feldkirchen, which they sacked on 12 May. Since they were outnumbered, the tactically sensible decision for King Ladislaus was to keep his force together at Kostenberg where they had solid defenses and good access to supplies. Garzez did not have enough men to besiege Klagenfurt without the main body of the League forces under del Rosso. In order for the Florentine commander to assist with the siege, he would either have to go through the Austro-Hungarian force, which meant the defenders would have the favorable ground, or to go around them through the mountains. Moving a large army over the Austrian Alps would take time, which would give Ladislaus ample opportunity to beat them back to Klagenfurt and, possibly, even destroy Garzez’s isolated force in the process. Though at a numerical disadvantage, King Ladislaus felt he had the tactical upper hand.

However, Emperor Ferdinand was furious that his uncle was letting “those Spanish and Italian dogs” burn his cities. He demanded that Ladislaus move against them immediately. This sentiment was echoed by the Austrian troops within the Hungarian king's own army. While the Hungarians had provided the bulk of the troops for the Habsburg war effort, the Austrians provided most of the money and enough of the troops that their demands had to be taken into account. Reluctantly, and with a feeling of dread, Ladislaus abandoned his well fortified camp at Kostenberg and moved his army east to intercept Garzez’s marauding troops near Feldkirchen.


Portrait of a young Emperor Ferdinand I von Habsburg

The League’s scouts almost immediately picked up on the Austro-Hungarian army’s movement north. Garzez pushed his infantry into the mountain west of Feldkirchen and had them dig in. He then took his 5,000 cavalry and headed off east, where they raided Austrian supply lines and threatened to cut off the road to Vienna. Instead of pursuing his foe north toward Feldkirchen, del Rosso moved his main army directly east toward Klagenfurt along the north bank of Lake Worth. This allowed them to move faster because the terrain was more level and also covered their right flank, since it was protected by the lake. On 11 May, the League army reached Klagenfurt and began making preparations for a siege. When King Ladislaus realized what had happened, he was horrified. Not only had his move toward Feldkirchen been useless, but now his enemy was besieging the very city he had been seeking to protect.

The King of Hungary moved his army back south, but now he was at a tactical disadvantage. Del Rosso’s line was oriented west, prepared to receive an attack, his left flank anchored against the eastern end of Lake Worth at the town of Krumpendorf. Additionally, Grand Master Garaez and about 10,000 League troops were scattered behind the Austro-Hungarian army, raiding their supply lines and picking off errant units. Ladislaus decided his best bet was to push east and try to secure the road to Judenburg, which would at least allow supplies to flow to him. However, del Rosso was ready for this and moved the bulk of his reserve to shore up the far right side of his line near the town of Maria Saal. On 13 May, the two armies faced each other across an open field divided by a creek. However, as it was already late afternoon, the King of Hungary decided to postpone his attack until the next day. This would prove to be a crucial tactical error.


Engraving of the town of Maria Saal

The delay bought time for del Rosso to send word to his 10,000 troops at Krumpendorf under the command of Florentine Captain Raniero Buti to move to reinforce the League’s position to the north. They undertook a grueling night march, covering the 14 kilometers from Lake Worth to the village of Karnburg and, when the sun rose on the 14th, Buti and his men were perfectly placed to attack the western side of Austro-Hungarian line. This is precisely what they did, launching a rapid double envelopment of the Habsburg right flank. Buti, though wounded early in the day leading one of the initial charges, stayed on the field, urging his men on and ensuring that they stayed disciplined. The surprise of being hit by an unexpected enemy force sowed chaos among Ladislaus’s troops. As they attempted to re-orient their line to fight back the assault, del Rosso ordered an advance of the main body toward the center of the enemy line. During the previous night, del Rosso had his scouts identify the shallowest points along the stream so that his men could cross as quickly as possible. This paid huge dividends as the apparently difficult terrain barely affected them. Then, unbeknownst to any of the combatants at Maria Saal, friend or foe, Garzez and his 5,000 cavalry launched a surprise attack of their own from the north against the rear of the Austro-Hungarian army. This increased the panic in the ranks exponentially. As he watched his army get attacked from three sides, King Ladislaus began to lose control of his men. Discipline quickly collapsed and many of his troops broke and ran. The center of their line, manned by Austrian troops, disintegrated leaving the Hungarians to their right, along with Ladislaus himself, completely encircled. Against the odds, the King of Hungary managed to lead his men on a fighting withdrawal from the trap, but it was too late to save the whole battle. By the time night fell on 14 May 1462, nearly 10,000 Austrian and Hungarian troops had been killed or captured, at the cost of just over 3,000 men to the League of Verona.


The Carinthian Campaign was decided at the Battle of Maria Saal, a decisive victory for the League of Verona

The League victory at the Battle of Maria Saal turned the tide of the war decisively. From that point on, the Habsburg forces would be perpetually on the defensive. The League of Verona now felt they were in control of the situation. The Florentine troops had proven themselves as some of the best trained and most disciplined soldiers in Europe and their performance helped solidify Grand Captain del Rosso’s reputation as a great military mind. After the battle, Queen Joan II of Aragon, who was accompanying her army on the campaign, made del Rosso a knight in the Aragonese chivalric order L'Orden de Montesa and awarded him an estate outside of Zaragoza. Doge Schio of Venice proclaimed both him and Grand Master Rupertus Garzez of the Knights Hospitaller honorary “Guardians of the Republic.” However, despite the jubilation, the war was not over. Another three and a half years of hard campaigning still lay ahead and the Habsburgs, though battered, were far from defeated.


Emblem of the Order of Montesa
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Beating the Hapsburgs like that is always a good thing.
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Chapter 8: Politics and War, 1462-1466

In the midst of the War of the League of Verona, on the night of 4 October 1462, the legendary leader of Florence, Gonfaloniere Cosimo de’ Medici, died in his sleep. The transformative leader, who had taken Florence from an influential but secondary power in Italy to become one of the key players on the peninsula, died quietly in his sleep. The greatest testament to his achievements was that all of Florence turned out for his funeral as well as an incredible number of people from the surrounding provinces. His funeral was held in the Basilica of San Lorenzo and the Archbishop of Florence led the mass. The day after the Gonfaloniere’s death, the Assembly passed a resolution declaring him “Pater Patriae”, the father of the country, the same title the Romans had bestowed upon Cicero. He was buried in San Lorenzo and a statue of him was commissioned to be placed in the Palazzo Vecchio.


The tomb of Cosimo de’ Medici in the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Florence


The statue Cosimo Pater Patriae

Once the ceremonies for Cosimo were finished however, the political rancor picked back up quickly. The three main factions all sought to maneuver to find a candidate that could win the election. It would be the first time in nearly three decades that there was not an incumbent to run against. The Black Guelphs, Cosimo’s party, declared that their candidate to succeed Cosimo would be Giovanni Santacroce, the Gonfaloniere’s closest advisor and a skilled administrator. This was not, however, a unanimous choice. He was, by all accounts a “Medici man”, loyal to the family. That was enough for the majority of the party to back him, but there was a large minority amongst the Black Guelphs who opposed the choice of Santacroce.

The anti-Santacroce faction, who came to be known as “i testardi” (the hard headed) were led by the old party stalwart and Medici rival, Carlo Spadolini. Over the course of Cosimo’s tenure as Gonfaloniere the two had reached a sort of cold peace and Spadolini even intervened to support Cosimo several times. However, he was also the one who had helped secure the exile of Piero de’ Medici from Florentine politics. Now that Cosimo was dead, Spadolini and his followers felt it was their turn to rule. The division was mostly along familial lines, but there were some small but important ideological differences between them as well. Despite the Black Guelphs’ ostensibly pro-Papal position, the Medici had steered Florence on a more independent course, bringing them almost to the White Guelph position on foreign policy. The testardi were also anti-populist, seeking to return to a political system in which the nobility held more power, the merchants had decreased influence, and the Assembly was little more than a debating club. They wanted to re-install the Signoria, the small grouping of powerful nobles who had served as the real ruling force of Florence in the past before the Assembly was empowered as a legislative body.

The Ghibellines, for their part, put up their leader Azzo del Conte. Del Conte hailed from a very old and wealthy Florentine family and was married to Theresa von Habsburg, Duchess of Gorizia, a distant cousin of the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand I. However, with the army of Florence actively engaged in hostilities with the Habsburgs, the Ghibellines were looked at by most Florentines as little better than traitors, basically an Imperial fifth column. This view was not entirely unfounded, as some efforts had been made by the Emperor to make contact with pro-Imperial elements in the city to try and force Florence out of the war.

The party most likely to mount a challenge to the Black Guelphs were their White cousins. However, they were not in a great position. Their leadership was divided over who would run and how they would approach the campaign. The White Guelphs were the most hawkish of all the factions and were in favor of a strong army and a foreign policy that was independent from both the Pope and the Empire. Their differences lay in their populism. The aptly named “populisti” (populists) faction wanted to further blur the distinctions between nobles and commoners. Most of the merchant class supported this side along with some of the more hawkish nobles in the party, who saw increased rights for the lower classes as favoring a stronger army in the future. The “tradizionalisti” (traditionalists) opposed what they saw as an overly permissive social position by the populisti which they feared would degrade Florentine society.

The White Guelphs held their party council on 8 October to select a candidate. For three days the debate remained deadlocked and acrimonious. Each faction’s candidates were longstanding, respected members of the party. Nevertheless, as the time dragged on, they were still getting voted down. If even the best, most established members of the party couldn’t get a consensus, it remained unclear if any agreement could be reached. There was a serious risk of a split in the party. Finally, the old party leader, Raniero Grimaldi proposed a new candidate.

The man’s name was Raniero Buti. Buti had commanded the League of Verona’s left flank at the Battle of Maria Saal and led the brilliant night march and surprise attack that turned the fight in the League’s favor. Wounded in the fighting, he was back in Florence recovering from his injuries. He had always been a White Guelph supporter but never had been very involved in politics due to his military career. He was only at the meeting because his two brothers had gone and convinced him to tag along. He was a nobleman but his family had only recently bought their way into the nobility after his grandfather, Ludovico, had amassed a fortune as a merchant. He was the perfect compromise candidate on the social front: a member of the nobility that emerged out of the merchant class. His brother, Leopoldo, was still a merchant and president of the family trading company. Raniero had never run for any political position before and, as the hawk party, it was only appropriate that the White Guelph candidate be a military man. On the night of 11 October, the White Guelph party council elected Raniero Buti as their candidate by an overwhelming majority.


Portrait of Raniero Buti

The White Guelph cause was aided by an even more open split within the Black Guelph party. Spadolini, insulted that he had been passed over for the nomination, gave a combative speech at their party council denouncing Santacroce and his supporters and accusing them of wanting to establish a Medici dynasty. He claimed that Santacroce would, as Gonfaloniere, re-instate Piero de’ Medici into public life and then cede the ruler’s seat to him or Piero’s son, Lorenzo. Spadolini and the other testardi then walked out of the council. Carlo Spadolini was a skilled political operative and a veteran of Florentine politics and he had his reasons for orchestrating the walkout. He had spent most of his life in a rivalry with Cosimo de’ Medici over control of the party and was convinced that, upon his death, he would inherit the mantle. Looking to the long term, he now realized that the Black Guelph party, despite his best efforts, had become little more than a vessel to advance Medici interests. This belief was only furthered when he learned that after the testardi's walkout, Santacroce's supporters read aloud a letter from Piero de' Medici in which the late Gonfaloniere's son declared his support for his father's advisor.

Three days before the election, Spadolini approached the White Guelph leadership and proposed a compromise: he and the testardi would boycott the election and spend their money and political capital to discredit Santacroce and the Black Guelphs who supported him. All the testardi wanted in return was for them to get the “compromise seats” that would go to the Black Guelphs if the Whites won. The “compromise seats” were ceremonial leadership positions in the Assembly which were so named because they were traditionally awarded by the newly elected Gonfaloniere to his defeated rivals as a gesture of goodwill. They had little actual power but would make Spadolini and the testardi the highest ranking Black Guelphs in the Assembly. It was from there that the wily old nobleman sought to wrestle back control of his party.

Grimaldi and Buti could not believe their good fortune. On 1 November 1462, the popularity of having a genuine war hero as their candidate combined with the testardi’s sabotage of their own party pushed the White Guelphs to their first ever electoral victory. Raniero Buti, who still needed crutches to walk as his wounds from Maria Saal had not yet healed, was the new Gonfaloniere.


Raniero Buti was elected Gonfaloniere of Florence on 1 November 1462

Buti had his work cut out for him. Florence was, despite the temporary focus on the election, still at war. Thankfully, the new Gonfaloniere’s old commander, Grand Captain Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso, was still conducting a brilliant campaign. After the League victory at Maria Saal, the army split. One half, consisting of the Venetians, Sienese, and Knights Hospitaller, under the command of the Knights' Grand Master Rupertus Garzez, would stay and lay siege to Klagenfurt. Once the city fell, the road to Vienna would be open. Del Rosso took the troops from Florence, Naples, and Aragon and attacked the Habsburg army in Istria where they were besieging Trieste yet again. At the Third Battle of Trieste on 20 November, the League army’s maneuvers managed to convince King Ladislaus I of Hungary to retreat after minimal bloodshed. The still demoralized Habsburg forces were not yet back to full strength.

After Trieste, del Rosso stopped and had his army set up winter quarters on the Adriatic coast in the Hungarian province of Lika. Then, in early March of 1463, he got his men moving again and swung his army north, over the Alps and into Germany. It was a bold move but one designed to attack the Austrians from the northwest. He knew there was a Habsburg force somewhere to the north and he intended to find it and destroy it before it could rejoin with the Hungarians and attempt to counterattack. By this point, the Florentine troops, numbering just under 9,000, made up less than a third of the army del Rosso was commanding, which had a total strength of 30,000. Nevertheless, his victories earlier in the war convinced the Aragonese that del Rosso was the best man to lead them. He was supported by Queen Joan II of Aragon who had rejoined the army to accompany them on the campaign just as she had up until Maria Saal.

The League army in the north finally met the enemy on 9 June but it turned out not to be the main Austrian force. Instead, they attacked and destroyed a smaller Hungarian force under the command of General Laszlo Alvinczy at Regensburg. The victory was tactically important as it secured the western flank of Garzez's army besieging Klagenfurt, but it was not the decisive victory del Rosso sought.


The war situation in June of 1463

After Regensburg, the League received reports that an Austro-Papal army was staging in Avignon to attempt an invasion of Italy from the west. Grand Captain del Rosso marched his army southwest and back across Germany to meet them. The two sides met at Avignon on 30 October. The Austro-Papal army was commanded by Urbanus Barilla, Gonfaloniere of the Papal Forces and a capable military commander. Despite being in a well defended position however, the League army overwhelmed the defenders with numbers. They were also aided by a nearly 10,000 strong force of Castilian troops sent by King Enrique IV in retaliation for an Austrian trade embargo against Castile. The decisive defeat led to the Papal State suing for peace. In accordance with the agreement between Aragon and Venice when the League of Verona was created, no land was taken from the Papal States, though the Venetians did demand war reparations.



The Battle of Avignon knocked the Papal States out of the war

Back in Florence the end of 1463 saw the formation of a noticeable anti-war movement. Part of it was the usual Ghibelline complaints about war with the Emperor but some genuine anti-war feeling was beginning to develop among the general population. Florence had been at war for two years, had won major victories, and yet nothing concrete had been achieved. The Venetians seemed like they were squandering the sacrifices being made by the men from Florence, Naples, and Aragon. They had failed to even capture Klagenfurt, the siege reaching its nineteenth month as 1463 turned into 1464. However, continued appeals by Buti and his supporters to the people of Florence and the provinces coupled with Grand Captain del Rosso’s exhortations to his men, kept the people’s spirits up and the war effort going.


Good morale in the army and faith in the leadership by the citizens helped maintain support for the war in Florence

It also helped that the war saw a marked decrease in intensity. As opposed to the major pitched battles of 1461-63, the years 1464 and 1465 saw few major engagements. The Habsburgs were trying to buy time to rebuild their forces while the League seemed content to besiege their lands. On 1 August 1464 the Habsburgs made one last ditch effort to lift the siege of Klagenfurt, now in its twenty seventh month, but this was repulsed by Rupertus Garzez and his men. The city finally fell after a siege of nearly two and a half years the following month on 4 September 1464. With Klagenfurt in League hands the road to Vienna lay open. Del Rosso left the Aragonese to besiege Trent and took his Florentine force, now back up to nearly 12,000 men, east to move on Vienna. He wanted to draw out the Habsburg armies and finally put an end to the war.

He waited until March of 1465 to begin his campaign so that the Alpine passes would be open for him and easily traversable. The Florentines defeated a small Austrian force near Brescia on 6 April and crossed into Austria on the 21st of the month. They stopped to resupply at Klagenfurt and picked up a reinforcement of 9,000 Venetian soldiers. With his army now numbering over 20,000, del Rosso was confident he could take the Habsburg capital. However, for the first time in the war, he made a tactical error. In his rush to reach Vienna, his army missed the large Habsburg army to the west of him in Steiermark. The Florentines captured Graz on 7 June and continued their march north. On 26 June 1465, Florentine scouts first saw the spires of Vienna, the resplendent Imperial capital. Grand Captain del Rosso deployed his army in battle formation and prepared to approach the city and begin the siege.

The Florentines and Venetians had barely begun preparing for the siege when a pair of exhausted riders entered their encampment. They had terrible news: the Habsburg armies had bypassed them and were now laying siege to Klagenfurt. The city had only recently been captured, its defenses were only partially repaired, and the supply situation was tenuous. If the Habsburgs recaptured Klagenfurt, they could cut off the Florentines and Venetians at Vienna, then defeat the League armies in detail. Del Rosso knew the right move was to go after the enemy army to the south. He had been outmaneuvered, and his dream of taking the enemy capital was over. Del Rosso reformed his army, started them on the march south, and took one last look at the city. He would never lay eyes on it again.

On the morning of 10 July, in the middle of a sweltering heat wave, the League forces approached Klagenfurt. The Habsburg forces were well entrenched and prepared to meet them. King Ladislaus Postumus had his troops well trained and ready for battle. The two sides met at the town of Sankt Veit an der Glan, just thirteen kilometers northeast of Maria Saal, where del Rosso had won his greatest victory. This time however, there was no flank attack at dawn for the League army, no surprise raid from marauding allied cavalry forces, and no interference from Emperor Ferdinand in his cousin’s battle plans. The terrain favored the Habsburgs this time, as they were dug in on the high ground west of the town, forcing the League troops to cross an open field and attack them uphill. The two armies clashed for nearly ten hours with Grand Captain del Rosso and King Ladislaus trying to outmaneuver and outfight the other. Both armies fought well and bravely, neither side able to dislodge the other. At nightfall, each side had suffered over 7,000 casualties. The Habsburg line had been battered by repeated, determined assaults by the Florentine and Venetian soldiers but it had not broken. The League troops were still on the field, but their foes would soon be reinforced by another 6,000 Hungarian troops and del Rosso considered another day of fighting to be futile and ordered a withdrawal. King Ladislaus and his army had regained their honor.



The Battle of Sankt Veit was a key Habsburg victory and the last major battle of the War of the League of Verona

However, despite the tactical victory, the King of Hungary chose not to pursue the retreating Florentine and Venetian forces. He did not have the manpower and wanted to retake Klagenfurt prior to launching a new offensive. This allowed del Rosso and his men to carry out their orderly withdrawal from Austria around Karnten. They reached the Venetian province of Friuli on 9 August. The Battle of Sankt Veit would turn out to be the last major battle of the war. Seeing no chance for a decisive victory without even more heavy bloodshed and financial expenditure, Doge Vitale Schio of Venice opened negotiations with Emperor Ferdinand and King Ladislaus. Despite their victory at Sankt Veit, the Habsburg armies were exhausted and there was little appetite for a new offensive. Both sides were ready for the war to end.

The League of Verona still had the balance of forces in their favor and, as a result, were able to secure good terms in the peace. The peace talks were, appropriately, held in Klagenfurt, which the Venetians voluntarily surrendered back to the Habsburgs as a gesture of good faith. On 28 February 1466 the peace treaty was signed. In it, Austria gave the province of Sudtirol to the Venetians and the Hungarians agreed to pay Venice war reparations.


In the Treaty of Klagenfurt Austria ceded Sudtirol to Venice

For Florence, the war had provided little material benefit. They had gained no provinces and gotten no financial indemnity. However, the performance of the Florentine armies earned them respect across the continent. They had gone head to head with two of the most powerful forces in Europe and more than held their own. Grand Captain del Rosso sealed his legacy as a great military commanders and many of the reforms and innovations he had brought to the Florentine army were adopted across Europe. Florence entered the post-war period with its head held high and its future looking bright.
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While direct rewards would have been nice, it's good just to weaken the Habsburgs.
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Historical Vignette 2: Nothing Decisive, 10 July 1465

Grand Captain Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso looked over the battlefield at the setting sun. His troops had just attempted another charge into the enemy, this time initiated against their foe’s left flank. Once again, they had failed to turn them. The attack looked promising at first as the Florentine cavalry pushed the Austrian infantry back but the follow on infantry was slowed going up the hill by a deadly volley of arrows from the Hungarian archers in the center of the line. The Florentines eventually made contact with the Austrians but by then they had regrouped and, after some bloody hand to hand fighting, pushed his men back.

He watched silently as his retreating men made their way back across the field to friendly lines. For a moment it looked as if the Austrians might pursue and counterattack but the Venetian commander on that side of the line, a young captain named Leonardo d’Alviano, had moved his infantry up and prepared them to receive the counterattack. The Austrians, surely just as exhausted as his own troops were by now, thought better of it and held their ground.

Del Rosso took another look at the sun. No time for another attack before it set. That was it for the day. He mounted his horse and, with his aide de camp trailing behind him, made his way to the right side of his line. At the end of a failed charge it was always good for the men to see their commander and hear some words of encouragement from him. It had always boosted his own spirits as a young soldier when that happened.


Portrait of Grand Captain Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso in his later years

When he arrived he saw that most of the men were bloodied and out of breath. “Men of Florence! Men of Venice!” he shouted, “my Italian brothers. Do not be discouraged. You fought bravely today. You made those Germans and Magyars taste Italian steel. That always makes it a good day.”

The men gave a half hearted cheer but largely carried on checking their weapons and equipment and tending the wounded. Perhaps a motivational speech was not what they needed. He changed his tone. “You all fought bravely today,” he began, “I am proud of all of you. It means nothing that this last attack failed to break the enemy. The battles that we have fought on these campaigns in these last years have covered us in honor. Nothing that transpires on this field can change that.”

The new approach seemed to be working. Many more of the men now stopped to listen. “In all my years as a soldier,” he continued, “I have never been prouder to fight with any group of men. The French army at Orleans had nothing on the bravery that you all showed today.” He paused and looked across the field at the piles of bodies that littered it. He wasn’t going to tell them anything else falsely motivational. He had been around soldiers too long to not realize that these men, in this moment, were not interested in the glories of Italy and battle.

“Tonight, I want you all to rest. The Quartermaster tells me he has quite the meal ready for you lot tonight. And you deserve it too. Drink wine also, in moderation of course.” That comment drew some laughs. “But be ready to march in the morning,” del Rosso continued, “because I promise you this: we will lose no more men on that field tomorrow. We have made our point here. Even when the enemy holds every tactical advantage possible, he still cannot drive us from the field. Tomorrow we begin our march back to Italy, back home. This war will soon be over. Our enemy doesn’t have the strength to pursue us back to our homeland and we are tired of wasting lives trying to keep proving what he already knows: that we will not be defeated.”

That finally drew a strong cheer. It was likely because of the mention of sleep and good food and wine and home, but del Rosso hoped it was also a cheer for their own performance, not just that day, but in the war. He saluted his men, who this time responded with another cheer and shouts of his name. Across the field they all heard the enemy army cheering as well. They had probably come to realize that there would be no more attacks that day. They deserved to cheer also. They had fought well. Tonight, both sides could hold their heads high.

Del Rosso spurred his horse back toward the center of the line. As he rode he turned toward his aide, “tell the officers to have the men make preparations for the night, then to come to my planning tent to debrief.”

“Yes sir,” replied the aide, riding off. Del Rosso kept his horse headed back to the center. There would be much to discuss that night.

As he rode slowly along he saw a gaggle of officers, both Venetian and Florentine. He stopped his horse and dismounted. The men stiffened their posture and saluted him. “Gentlemen,” he said to the six men standing there, four Venetians and two Florentines, “how are we doing tonight?”

“Good sir,” came the mumbled responses. He looked at their faces. Most of them were young, in their twenties. He recognized the tone of their replies as well; they were those of young officers unsure of how to speak to their commander. Would he berate them? Tell them they had failed?

“Relax, relax,” he said waving his hand at them, “we have just fought together, the day’s battle is over, right now I speak to you as just another comrade.” He saw them ease up a bit, but they were still clearly nervous. “I am proud of the way you all led your men today, and make sure you tell them that they fought well also,” he said. He hated officers too aloof to compliment their men, he always made it a point to be firm with his subordinates when necessary but also to praise them when it was deserved. He expected the same all the way down the chain of command. He looked at the Venetians, each with a golden Lion of St. Mark on their breastplate. Del Rosso had to admit, the lion made a more intimidating emblem than his own crimson fleur-de-lis.

“Which one of you is Captain d’Alviano?” he asked.

“I am sir,” came the reply as one of them stepped forward.

“This morning you and your men fought well in the assault against the enemy center. I commend you for that. But, as a tactician, I was more happy with your action in the last engagement.”

“We were not in the last assault sir,” replied d’Alviano with a puzzled look.

“In the assault no,” said the Grand Captain, “but because you moved your infantry forward as your Florentine brothers were retreating, you prevented the Austrians from pursuing and counterattacking. I like initiative when it is smart, and that action was. A repulsed assault is a dangerous moment. The enemy’s counterattack, after your own men have just been beaten back and are naturally demoralized, could change the course of a battle decisively. Always remember that.”

He turned to the Florentines in the group. “Was that, by any chance, one of your units whose retreat was covered by Captain d’Alviano here?”

“Mine sir,” came a timid voice. Del Rosso looked to see where it came from. A figure that looked like a boy stepped forward. His armor was covered in blood and mud and his left arm was bandaged. When del Rosso first approached the group he had assumed the boy was a squire.

“What’s your name son?” he asked.

“Vitale Cybo-Malaspina sir,” replied the boy.

“And how old are you?”

“Sixteen sir.”

“Sixteen!?” said del Rosso shocked, “how are you in command of your unit?”

“All of our officers were killed over the course of the day sir, the men chose me to lead them since I was the only one left who could read the field orders and messages sir.”

Del Rosso shook his head, “well you led an admirable charge, you should be proud. Well, as your commander, I hereby promote you to Captain in the army of Florence.”

“Thank you, thank you sir it is an honor.” Del Rosso paused to let the others shake the boy’s hand before doing so himself.

“Well my brothers,” said del Rosso once they had all turned back to him, “get your men ready for the night, I will see you all at the debrief in an hour.”

“Yes sir!” they replied with more confidence this time. Del Rosso got back on his horse and made his way back to the planning tent.


An hour later, the last group of officers came trickling into the tent. Grand Captain del Rosso looked over the packed tent. “Is everyone here?” he asked nobody in particular. His question was met with scattered shrugs and absent looks. “Nobody knows? Very well,” he said raising his voice a bit to get attention, “let us begin.”

“Well gentlemen,” he continued as everyone turned to listen to him, “I want you to know, today was our last day of battle here. I see no reason to waste more lives trying to defeat a dug in enemy on the high ground. There is, really, no point in wasting more lives in this war in general. I believe, as I told the men earlier, that our point has been made. Vienna and Budapest have thrown everything they have into their quest to invade Italy and they have failed. They will certainly think twice before they attempt to do so again. Perhaps the Doge of Venice feels there has not been enough bloodshed yet, but I think, at least for Florence, our war goals have been achieved.”

The Grand Captain looked over at the senior Venetian commander. “We are here to fight,” replied the old Venetian soldier Cortino Cortese laughing, “our Most Serene Doge has his motivations and goals, they are for him to decide on.”


The Venetian commander, Cortino Cortese

“Well I know Doge Schio, he has ruled Venice ably for many years,” replied del Rosso, “but that is the problem with you Venetians having a merchant running your republic in a time of war.”

“Money is above all else in Venice my old friend,” said Cortese, “but I don’t remember you complaining about Doge Schio when we were funding the war that gave Lucca to Florence nor when our troops were smashing the Visconti armies so that you could lay siege to Milan.”

Del Rosso had to smile, the old Venetian war dog knew what he was talking about, “point taken. I also didn’t have to complain about you being fat back then either.” This elicited a roar of laughter from everyone in the room except Cortese who glanced down at his formidable belly.

The Venetian commander looked up then back down at his belly then back up. “What fat!?” he bellowed, “how can any of us civilized Venetians get fat eating the food your mongoloid Florentine cooks make? You Tuscans may have convinced all of Europe that you are culinary masters but we know better, we know your food is shit!” This comment elicited loud, combative bantering throughout the tent. Del Rosso shook his head smiling.

“Gentlemen! Gentlemen!” he shouted, finally getting them to quiet down. “As much as I am sure we would all love to debate about the best dishes and cooks in Italy, let us continue with the reason why we are here.

“As I said earlier, I do not want to lose any more soldiers fighting for this piece of land. It is, in my opinion, not worth it strategically. The only way the Habsburgs can win this war is by destroying this army, by destroying us. If they were to achieve that, then they could turn their attention to the army of Aragon in the west and, potentially, turn the tide of this war. Anything less than a total catastrophic loss on our part, means that we win. I estimate that our losses on this day were roughly even. If I am correct, then today is not a loss for us, but merely a draw, at the worst. If they are content to sit back on the defensive, I am willing to let them do it. The League of Verona, combined, ountumbers the Habsburg armies roughly 2 to 1.”

Del Rosso believed what he was saying but he also suspected some of the men thought he was just bullshitting them, he wanted to squash that thought immediately. “I am sure some of you will think,” he went on, “especially the younger ones among you, that this means that we lost the battle and that I am just here to make a defeat sound pretty. I say that those who feel that way are wrong and do not understand the larger strategic picture. The Habsburg armies are spent. You and your men fought bravely. Florence got involved in this war to stop the Habsburgs from getting their pretty little hands on Italy, and that, I assure you, has been achieved. Any territorial ambitions for Venice, well I leave that up to the politicians. But I know Gonfaloniere Buti agrees with me on the strategic question of preventing foreign meddling in Italy. That was Cosimo de’ Medici’s goal and it is his also and it has been achieved. I guess I’ll leave it up to you all,” he said gesturing toward the Venetian officers, “to figure out if there is any reason left to fight.”

He let that sink in for a moment. There were some murmurs but for the most part his audience was still listening attentively.

“Tomorrow, before dawn, I want the men formed up in marching formation,” he continued, “I want to be moving before they have a chance to attack us. I do not think they will pursue, if I know King Ladislaus he will consolidate and regroup. As I said I reckon they lost as many men today as we did and they’re surely just as tired. Nevertheless, we should take all precautions. I will have further orders on our actual route of march for you in a few hours. Allow the men to get some food and some sleep, allowing for the regular night watch rotations of course. Just ensure they know to be ready to step off before sunrise.” He looked over his officers, “as for the more senior ones among you, don’t expect to get much sleep tonight. Pass these orders down the chain, ensure preparations are made for the night, then meet me at my tent in two hours. I will give the order for our movement then. Do I have any questions?”

“If we are withdrawing, doesn’t that mean we are conceding defeat sir?” came a voice from the back. Del Rosso recognized it immediately, it was that of his son in law, Baldassare Torricelli. Baldassare was a good field commander but he was also impetuous and insubordinate. The old commander knew the impertinence was because of their familial relationship, he was the husband of his middle daughter Eleonora.

“We aren’t conceding anything,” replied del Rosso trying to maintain his bearing despite his anger, “we are conducting a planned, organized withdrawal that is not under pressure from the enemy. I am making a decision that there is nothing left to be gained here by throwing more bodies at a well defended enemy held high ground. As I’ve already said, I feel that our war goals have been achieved regardless of today’s outcome. Only the destruction of this army would substantially change the balance of this war. By simply withdrawing, we win. A man who wants to hold high command should think up to the strategic level, not remain stuck at the tactical level. I expect better from you Captain Torricelli.”

Baldassare made no reply, del Rosso was satisfied he’d made his point, the satisfaction amplified by the murmurs and chuckles he heard coming from the assembled officers. They knew who had won that exchange.

“Do I have any other questions?” he said after letting the matter settle.

“Sir may I make a recommendation?” came another voice. It was from Captain Antonio Grimaldi. Grimaldi was young but had already proven himself on numerous occasions. He was a capable commander on the battlefield but where he really excelled was in leading his men on daring night raids of the enemy encampments to disrupt their plans and their sleep and to destroy supplies. Del Rosso suspected that’s what the recommendation was going to be.


Captain Antonio Grimaldi of Florence

“Is this another one of your night raids Captain Grimaldi,” he asked.

Grimaldi smiled, “yes sir.” A few of his comrades nearby rolled their eyes. “I request sir,” he continued, “to take a group of my men through the woods and around the ridge the enemy is occupying and attack their horses and set some fires. That way they will have a harder time pursuing and our cavalry will be better able to screen our withdrawal.”

“I’ll consider it,” said del Rosso, “come to the meeting in two hours with a detailed plan including your route and the number of men you propose to take. I guess you don’t like sleep Captain.”

“No sir, I can sleep when I’m dead,” Grimaldi replied, causing more eye rolls, “I will be at the planning meeting.”

“Very well, do I have any other questions?”

Nobody said anything. “Dismissed then, you all know what to do.” The crowd began to clear. Grand Captain del Rosso walked over to the map table and started looking it over. Once the tent had cleared completely he pulled out his wine flask and took a long drink. Hopefully, he thought to himself, if everything went well this would be his last long night of studying and planning in a military tent. When this war was over, he would retire. He took two minutes to think of his wife, his daughters, and his grandchildren then another two to imagine himself sitting back and drinking wine on his estate on the coast near Viareggio. Satisfied with his brief break he turned back to his maps. There was still much work to be done.
NOTE: A quick note about the rank structure of the fictional Florentine army in this AAR. I am not totally clear on how 15th Century armies were organized but I do know their chain of command was much different from the one we use today as was their general organization.

Basically, the way I picture it for the purposes of this AAR is like this: the Grand Captain commands the whole army. Below him are Captains who command everything from a battalion to an entire flank on a battle line. As far as distinguishing the chain of command amongst them, I imagine it working the way Sergeants Major work today i.e. the billets held establish the chain of command. The Sergeant Major of a division is above the Sergeant Major of a regiment who is above the Sergeant Major of a battalion. Same goes with the captains in this fictional version of the army of Florence. Below them I have lieutenants who are basically captains in training and in charge of commanding smaller sized units within the force, roughly company sized elements.

On the enlisted side I also basically just have three ranks: Sergeant Major, Sergeant, and Private. I know they didn’t really have standing armies in the 15th Century but since EUIV has standing armies then for the purposes of this AAR there are standing armies. Basically you are a private for a long time until you become a sergeant who is in charge of the discipline for all the privates in his assigned unit. Then each battalion has a sergeant major who is in charge of the sergeants and everyone else. This basically is just a super simplified version of the modern enlisted rank structure.

As the game progresses and military doctrine and technology develops, I will add some complexity to the rank structure to go along with the professionalization of the officer corps, and better organization of militaries in general. I plan to create the rank of General in the next chapter to be above Grand Captain but for all intents and purposes it fulfills the same role. But in case you were confused why there are so many god damn captains, that’s why I have it that way.
NOTE: A quick note about the rank structure of the fictional Florentine army in this AAR. I am not totally clear on how 15th Century armies were organized but I do know their chain of command was much different from the one we use today as was their general organization.

Basically, the way I picture it for the purposes of this AAR is like this: the Grand Captain commands the whole army. Below him are Captains who command everything from a battalion to an entire flank on a battle line. As far as distinguishing the chain of command amongst them, I imagine it working the way Sergeants Major work today i.e. the billets held establish the chain of command. The Sergeant Major of a division is above the Sergeant Major of a regiment who is above the Sergeant Major of a battalion. Same goes with the captains in this fictional version of the army of Florence. Below them I have lieutenants who are basically captains in training and in charge of commanding smaller sized units within the force, roughly company sized elements.

On the enlisted side I also basically just have three ranks: Sergeant Major, Sergeant, and Private. I know they didn’t really have standing armies in the 15th Century but since EUIV has standing armies then for the purposes of this AAR there are standing armies. Basically you are a private for a long time until you become a sergeant who is in charge of the discipline for all the privates in his assigned unit. Then each battalion has a sergeant major who is in charge of the sergeants and everyone else. This basically is just a super simplified version of the modern enlisted rank structure.

As the game progresses and military doctrine and technology develops, I will add some complexity to the rank structure to go along with the professionalization of the officer corps, and better organization of militaries in general. I plan to create the rank of General in the next chapter to be above Grand Captain but for all intents and purposes it fulfills the same role. But in case you were confused why there are so many god damn captains, that’s why I have it that way.

For my AAR, I found some very interesting Wiki pages regarding early standing armies. Do read up on the articles "Man-at-arms" (cavalry, not infantry!) and "Lances fournies" if the historical structure interests you.
Thanks for pointing me that way Raboude, I had no idea that Medieval and early modern era armies had small units at all. I always assumed the idea of a unit as small as a fire team was a relatively new invention, but they were even going with units as small as 2-3 men as opposed to the now standard four man fire team.

By the way I'll be posting Chapter 9 shortly.
Thanks for pointing me that way Raboude, I had no idea that Medieval and early modern era armies had small units at all. I always assumed the idea of a unit as small as a fire team was a relatively new invention, but they were even going with units as small as 2-3 men as opposed to the now standard four man fire team.

By the way I'll be posting Chapter 9 shortly.

Glad to be of help, and looking forward to your next chapter!
Chapter 9: The Birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, 1466-1470

The end of the War of the League of Verona ushered in a new era of peace for Florence. The Florentine armies had performed excellently in the war and now the Florentines looked to match that success domestically. Internally, the efficient administration of Cosimo de’ Medici, continued by Gonfaloniere Raniero Buti, had all but stamped out corruption. The sensational trial of Piero de’ Medici and his associates in 1455, in which Cosimo allowed his son to be convicted and sentenced without interference for his corrupt acts, established that in Florence the rule of law was above all. As a result, the general trust of the citizenry, both in their government and in each other, grew. The reforms of the populist White Guelphs following their rise to office after the election of 1462 furthered this as well. Under the new administration more resources and effort were put toward ensuring that even the peasantry was not cheated and exploited by rapacious noble landlords. This increased the morale of the population and the stability of the government.


Trust in Florentine institutions was widespread

When the next election cycle came about in 1466, the White Guelphs were able to ride a tide of good feeling to re-election, with Buti securing a second term by a wide margin. The Ghibellines were discredited after the League of Verona defeated the Emperor and his Hungarian allies and the internal fighting within the Black Guelph party continued, leaving no strong opposition.


Gonfaloniere Raniero Buti was easily re-elected in 1466

The first big controvery of Buti's second term was over the development of new coinage. Ever since the introduction of the florin in 1252, the republic had taken the issue of its currency very seriously. In 1467, a raging debate began in the Assembly regarding the need for a new type of coin to be issued. The amount of gold in Florentine currency had been steadily declining but there was a new push to mint only high purity coins in their place. The other issue that was brought up by supporters of Gonfaloniere Buti was to once again place the image of the Gonfaloniere on the coins.

The debate caused a split within the White Guelph party, as the merchants favored keeping the old coin, as they were benefiting from the resulting inflation, and the nobility who favored higher purity and lower inflation. The artisans also wanted to see inflation curbed and joined with the nobles in supporting the new coin. The Ghibellines backed the minting of a new coin as well, though they proposed placing the image of the Holy Roman Emperor on it instead of the Gonfaloniere. On the other hand, the Black Guelphs, finally finding an issue both wings of th party agreed on, opposed it. They knew that if they wanted to regain the support of the peasantry they needed to find an issue that they could use to win them over. They decided to use the coinage issue to do that. The peasants, especially those who worked the estates of the country nobility, stood to gain from increased inflation. Many of them were in debt to the landowners for whom they worked and this was used as a method of control. However, with ever increasing inflation, those debts would not be as harsh. The noble families of Florence proper, who tended to back the Black Guelphs, had no such issue. Therefore, they opposed the minting of a new coin to keep inflation rising and try to decrease the power and wealth of the country nobility.

The merchants and the city nobles, traditional rivals, made a powerful alliance on this issue. Their influence was able to sway enough votes in the Assembly to deadlock the vote. The proposal was brought up to Gonfaloniere Buti in order to break the tie. Buti decided to side with keeping the old coin. He wanted to keep the merchants happy and also saw an opportunity to further increase his popularity among the peasantry. The decision earned him great acclaim from the lower classes, who felt that the Gonfaloniere at least had some interests that aligned with theirs, and kept up the image of the White Guelphs as populists.


Gonfaloniere Buti rejected efforts to have a new, high purity coin introduced in 1467

The Gonfaloniere’s backing of the Black Guelph’s favored position on the coinage question helped bring the two parties closer together. While there were still many issues that stood between them, there was a chance to heal some of the old rifts. First however, the Black Guelphs needed to come together. Buti organized a meeting with both Giovanni Santacroce and Carlo Spadolini. The 76 year old Spadolini still harbored resentment at Santacroce and his supporters for what the former saw as their usurpation of his rightful claim to head the party. However, Santacroce also had come to realize that, with the rise to power of the White Guelphs, the chances of a re-establishment of the Medici to power were small. The two Black Guelph rivals as well as Gonfaloniere Buti signed an agreement of friendship citing their “ancient and common roots” under which they would work together to keep the Ghibellines politically marginalized. While the two remained separate parties still, the possibility for a reunion were opened.

In the years following the War of the League of Verona, Florence saw the development of important technological advances. The Renaissance was not limited only to art and architecture but extended to all aspects of life. The creativity and new ideas that it sparked among the artisans and craftsmen were also very important. The development of the small, organized workshop allowed the artisans and craftsmen to become more independent of the old trade guilds and sell their products freely. The two biggest markets in the republic, in Florence and Lucca, saw a huge influx of new goods as a result. This development also made the merchants happy, as it reduced the power of the guilds and allowed them more freedom of price negotiation with the newly independent artisans.


The development of the organized workshop was an important advance during the last half of the 1460s

The army also benefitted from the creativity of the Renaissance with the introduction of the arquebus. The muzzle loaded firearm essentially made the archer obsolete. It was more conducive to an expanding, large force as well. It was easy to train a new recruit to use the arquebus, unlike the bow which required years of practice to master. It also took away dependence on the strength of the user. As the arquebus spent more time in service, tactics such as volley fire would be developed that increased the weapon’s effectiveness and lethality.


The introduction of the arquebus was an important step in Europe’s military development

Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso, the hero of the War of the League of Verona, was promoted to the newly created rank of General of the Armies of Florence following the end of the war. Though he wanted to retire, Gonfaloniere Buti did not want to lose his old commander’s skills as a military reformer and innovator. The two men agreed that del Rosso would no longer serve as a field commander but would stay on in overall command of the army so that he could continue to oversee its progression. The newly promoted General eagerly adopted the arquebus for his regiments, thus continuing the army’s improvement as a fighting force.

There were also a number of important developments in the realm of foreign policy in these years. The Republic of Siena was still nominally independent, though it had been under de facto Florentine rule since it was defeated in the First Tuscan War in 1446. In the two decades since then, the republic had fallen into poverty and backwardness. In August of 1468, an alliance of pro-Florentine nobles and merchants in Siena staged a coup and overthrew Doge Vitale Schechi and installed Leonardo Clerici in his place. Clerici met with Gonfaloniere Buti and agreed to allow Florence to annex the republic. The following year, on 7 August 1469, Siena was formally annexed, Florence now ruled all of Tuscany.


The annexation of Siena brought all of Tuscany under Florentine rule

On 15 June 1468, Grand Duke Ferdinand I of Austria, Holy Roman Emperor died of pneumonia at the age of 22. The electors chose his brother, the 20 year old Leopold Wilhelm to become Emperor Leopold Wilhelm VIII. Within days of his crowning as Emperor, the young Habsburg enacted the Reichsreform of 1468, increasing the centralization of the Empire and allowing the Emperor to declare war on any state outside the Empire that held Imperial provinces. While this reform further strengthened the Habsburg hold on power, it was wildly unpopular in Italy, where Imperial authority was deeply distrusted. Throughout the peninsula, including in Florence, calls for secession from the Empire mounted. A Ghibelline street festival celebrating the reform was attacked by an angry mob screaming “down with the Germans! Down with the Emperor!”


The Reichsreform of 1468 increased the centralization of the Holy Roman Empire but was extremely unpopular in Italy

Like his predecessor, Cosimo de’ Medici, Raniero Buti understood that Florence was at the center of a great transformation of art, literature, and cultural taking place in Italy and throughout Europe. He was determined to continue the tradition of the Gonfaloniere also being a patron of the arts. In 1466, Piero della Francesca completed the great masterpiece The History of the True Cross, a series of frescoes based on the legend that the wood from the Garden of Eden becoming the Cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. In his frescoes, della Francesca produced groundbreaking work, particularly in terms of lighting and shading. The great Renaissance man Leon Battista Alberti was also in Florence at this time and he befriended Buti. During his stay in the city, Alberti oversaw work on Santa Maria Novella, San Miniato al Monte, and the city’s iconic Baptistery.


“The Dream of Constantine” from della Francesca’s series The History of the True Cross


The facade of the church of Santa Maria Novella

On New Year’s day of 1470, Florence held a grand ball in the Palazzo Vechio. Notables from throughout the republic were in attendance. The ball was preceded by a parade of the army through the streets of the city followed by the opening of a grand exhibition of Florentine art and invention. Foreign dignitaries attended as well, including Doge Teodoro Flangini of Venice, Doge Pascal Blies of Switzerland, and Duke Ludovico I of Savoy. The extravagant party lasted all night, with the revelry spilling out onto the street. The rowdy celebration continued until dawn the next morning when the exhausted attendees finally began to head home.


The Grand Ball of Florence was a major event in Italy in 1470

The investments in specific works of art as well as to the general development of arts and culture in the city helped turn Florence into “The Birthplace of the Renaissance.” In the years to come, more well known artists from around Italy would come to Florence to work, bringing even more beauty and renown to the city. Florence, of course, would produce great Renaissance men of her own in the coming years, establishing it as the capital of the Italian Renaissance. Aside from just status, the city benefitted from the ongoing wave of new ideas and technologies that accompanied the arts of the Renaissance to make it a truly world changing era.

Siena will make a great addition to the fold.
Chapter 10: New Management, 1470-1475

The Florentine merchant class had long formed a strong and influential political bloc. However, as the various trade companies grew, this began to change. The tradition of always providing most favored status to fellow Florentine merchants and offering better prices to buyers from Florence was going by the wayside. The different merchants began making side deals with rivals from other countries.

In an effort to counteract this, Simone Buti, brother of Gonfaloniere Raniero Buti, began to organize a league of “loyalist merchants” who pledged to uphold the old Florentine trading traditions. He gained a great deal support from many of the smaller traders and merchants but the three biggest trading companies refused to join. The main foreign power seeking to entice Florentine traders was the Republic of Genoa. The Genovese hated Florence and were committed to stopping the growth of Florentine trade power. They bribed and coerced many of the traders to offer better terms to Genovese buyers and to redirect goods to Genoa instead of Pisa or Lucca.


The market in Lucca

Then, on 21 October 1470, Lazzaro Bertelli, the vice president of Florence’s second largest merchant company, the Compagnia San Pietro, was found murdered in an alley behind a brothel in Pisa, his throat cut. Around his neck was a sign that read “Putana Genovese” (Genovese whore). Six days later, Cesare l’Appo, Simone Buti’s business partner, was murdered in Lucca along with his personal assistant, a boy of only 14. On 30 October a brawl broke out among traders at the docks at Viareggio in the province of Lucca between “loyalist merchants” and their free trading counterparts when the loyalists tried to prevent a ship from leaving the port to go to Genoa. The city guard, whose commander was the brother of one of the loyalist merchants involved, intervened, killing three crewmembers of the offending ship before standing aside and letting the loyalist merchants set fire to the vessel.

When Gonfaloniere Buti heard the news about the incident in Viareggio he was furious. He sympathized, for both political and familial reasons, with the loyalist merchants, but this time they had crossed the line. He had the commander of the Viareggio city guard arrested and tried for dereliction of duty and abuse of power. He then ordered that all of the Florentine ports be closed to any of the loyalist mercantile companies who had men involved in the fighting until those companies repaid any damages caused by their people. The damages were quickly repaid and, it seemed, everyone was finally done with the bad blood.

Thing were quiet for over a month until, on Christmas Eve of 1470, two high ranking officials of the Compagnia dell’Elba, one of the loyalist trade companies, were murdered in broad daylight in the middle of Piazza San Marco in Venice. The Venetian authorities caught the men responsible and, it turned out, they were employees of the Compagnia San Pietro taking revenge for the earlier murder of Lazzaro Bertelli. Doge Teodoro Flangini sent an angry letter to Gonfaloniere Buti complaining of the awful behavior of the Florentine merchants in Venice and demanding he do something to force them to clean up their acts. The murder of the men from the Compagnia dell’Elba was only the worst of what had become an increasingly violent showdown between the different groups of Florentine merchants living in Venice. There were not many, but they were causing a great deal of tumult, starting brawls, raiding each other’s ships, and generally behaving poorly.

Gonfaloniere Buti ordered a meeting of all the heads of the major and mid-sized trade companies to be held in Pisa. They arrived for what they thought was going to be a negotiation of various terms to instead find an incensed Raniero Buti ready to chew them all out. He told them that he did not care one bit about what their quarrel was over but that they were now interfering with Florentine foreign policy. He threatened that any further acts of violence by any trade company would result in its immediate shuttering and the arrest of all its leadership. Furthermore, he added, any traders found giving more favorable terms to foreigners, especially the Genovese, over Florentines would be hit with a heavy tax on all further imports and exports. Buti did allow for exceptions to this rule when it came to allied states, particularly Venice. He then made all of the men who were present sign an agreement outlining the terms he had just put forward. Reluctantly, and likely influenced by the sound of an infantry regiment from the Florentine army loudly drilling in the piazza just outside the building they were meeting in, they signed. Despite costing Raniero Buti some serious political capital, the series of events that would come to be known only half-jokingly as the “Trade Wars” were over.


The “Trade Wars” between different factions of Florentine merchants disrupted the once peaceful mercantile activities in the republic

On 15 January 1471, Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso, General of the Army of Florence, died from what was likely a heart attack. He was tending his garden at his villa in Lido di Camaiore, just north of Viareggio, when he suddenly lost consciousness and fell to the ground. Florence had lost its greatest military mind. He had been a soldier for nearly half a century, from when he was sixteen years old, and for the past twenty seven years had served under arms for the Republic of Florence. Del Rosso lived through the transition from the old, condottiere-led mercenary armies to the new, more formalized militaries that came about in the second half of the 15th Century. In many ways, he had contributed greatly to making that transition happen. He had built the Florentine army from one that was barely able to beat back minor rebel uprisings in the countryside to one that could go head to head with the armies of the Habsburgs and win. After his death, the Assembly passed a resolution pronouncing him “Il Padre delle Armi Fiorentine” (the Father of Florentine Arms) and commissioned a statue of him to be erected in the Piazza della Repubblica.


The death of del Rosso marked the end of an era for the Florentine army


Statue of General Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso in Florence

Gonfaloniere Buti promoted Bonaventura Vassari to replace del Rosso as General of the Army of Florence. Vassari was a veteran soldier and had been one of the early group of trusted officers del Rosso had brought on to create the new Florentine army prior to the start of the Tuscan Wars. He also ended up marrying his mentor’s oldest daughter, Lucrezia. Vassari had always prided himself on being a quiet soldier dedicated to doing his duty and serving honorably without too much fanfare. It came as a shock to many within the army and in the general population when he was promoted ahead of other, more popular commanders. He was a capable and courageous field commander, best known for leading the first troops through the breach at the siege of Milan in 1449 and leading the charge that broke the Habsburg lines at the First Battle of Brescia in the in 1461. He had accompanied del Rosso on almost every campaign and fought alongside him in almost every battle the old general had been involved with. However, he lacked his father in law’s boldness and tactical creativity, preferring a more cautious, defensive style of warfare. He would, however, help pioneer the integration of canons into the army a few years after taking command.



Portrait of General Bonaventura Vassari

The post of foreign minister in the Florentine republic was one that came and went depending on the whims of the Gonfaloniere. While it would be a number of years before the position became permanent and a professional diplomatic corps was established, Raniero Buti took the first steps toward making it the influential and important post it would soon become. The reason was the man he hired for the position of top diplomat: Luigi Montefeltro. Born in 1434 in Rimini, he hailed from the venerable House of Montefeltro, dukes of Urbino and Rimini. Despite Urbino being a vassal of the Papal State, the Montefeltro family was a stalwart member of the Ghibelline party. As the youngest son of Guidantonio da Montefeltro, lord of Urbino, Luigi had basically free reign to do whatever he wished. He had no hopes for much inheritance of land in Urbino and one of his older brothers was already in the priesthood.

As a teenager, Montefeltro moved to Florence where he hoped to become an artist. Instead, he found his calling as a freelance diplomat. He was first hired in 1453 at the age of 19 by the Swiss to be their representative in Florence. Two years later, he left Florence and moved to Paris. He talked his way into the court of King Charles VII of France and, from there, wrote letters to various European heads of state offering his service as their representative to the court. The major powers all had permanent ambassadors at the other major courts, but some of the smaller European states did not have the ability to maintain a permanent ambassador of their own and instead would hire men like Montefeltro to do it for them. He was hired first by Ferrara but after just under two years in their service he was fired after sparking the ire of Ercole d’Este for having an affair with his daughter Beatrice. Next, Montefeltro was hired by the Duchy of Mantua, a historical Ghibelline stronghold. He worked for Mantua for five years until the death of Charles VII. The French king's son and successor, Louis XI hated Montefeltro, most likely because the latter was caught having an affair with one of Louis’s mistresses, and had him expelled from court and banned from France.

Montefeltro returned to Italy in 1464 after a year of touring Germany while Florence was involved in the War of the League of Verona. He refused to go back to Urbino now that it was being ruled directly by the Pope and instead settled back in Florence. Despite starting as a Ghibelline, he had grown disillusioned with the Empire and embraced the idea of a united Italy. The League’s victories against the Habsburgs proved to him that it could be made a reality. He purchased a home in Florence and supported himself through his family’s wealth while writing and studying in the city. He joined the White Guelphs and offered his services to Raniero Buti. The Gonfaloniere liked him and got him a seat in the Assembly, where Montefeltro made speeches supporting the war and against the Empire. In the years since, the Urbinese nobleman had been an indispensable advisor and Buti decided to give him a full time job.



Luigi Montefeltro, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Florence

One of the first challenges faced by Montefeltro in his new position was the outbreak of the War of Oviedo between England and Castile. The English invasion of the Iberian Peninsula caught the Castilians by surprise. They called upon Florence in late 1471 to aid them in the war. Montefeltro was opposed to sending Florentine troops to Iberia and wanted to say no to the Castilian request for help. Gonfaloniere Buti however, argued that such a move would bring shame to Florence and undermine the good reputation it had built based on its exploits in the War of the League of Verona. However, Florence’s participation in the war would be minimal. Montefeltro wanted to only send some token subsidies to the Castilians but Buti insisted on sending some troops. General Vassari led an expeditionary force of 5,000 men which joined with the Castilian army in its fight to repel the English invasion. The Florentine expeditionary force fought in the Battles of Grado and Pontevedra and performed well.


Castile called on its ally Florence to assist it in the War of Oviedo against England

Another crisis soon came up closer to home. Parma was ruled by Milan until the Milanesi were forced to give it up following their defeat in the Second Tuscan War in 1449. Since then the Republic of Parma had been in a constant struggle to survive both against the aggression of its neighbors and in its own internal struggle to control the local nobility, with a variety of powerful families trying to overthrow the republic and establish a duchy. The Republic of Florence, which had forced the Milanese to grant independence to Parma, maintained close relations with the state.

The province of Parma was both economically and strategically valuable and was coveted by numerous neighbors including Florence, Mantua, Ferrara, and Milan. In August of 1473 an alliance of noble rebels led by Pier Luigi Farnese captured the city of Parma and expelled the republican government of Gonfaloniere Manfredo Fumagalli and pronounced the creation of a duchy. Pope Innocent IX declared Pier Luigi Farnese, Pier Luigi I Duke of Parma and Piacenza. The deposed republican leadership fled to Florence and pleaded for Florentine military support to Gonfaloniere Buti. Montefeltro, who dreamed of unifying Italy through the creation of an alliance of Italian republics, was enthusiastic in his support for the republicans and convinced Buti to send troops.

While that was happening, Ercole I of the House of Este, ruler of Ferrara and Modena saw an opportunity to simultaneously grab more territory and vanquish an old family foe. The Este and Farnese families had a long running feud and Ferrara declared war on Parma on 2 September 1473. Their allies, the Ambrosian Republic of Milan, joined them. Twelve days later, on 14 September, the Republic of Florence also declared war on the Duchy of Parma, with the goal of reestablishing the republican government under Manfredo Fumagalli.

The Estes and their troops beat the Florentines to the gates of Parma but, in a stunning turn of events, the Ferrarese army was defeated by Duke Farnese and his men and driven out of the province on 27 September. When the larger, better prepared Florentine army arrived just over a week later however, Farnese and his men, spent from the earlier battle, were no match. However, Farnese and his top leaders evaded capture and escaped into the city, where they held out for another 10 months.

In the midst of this all, Gonfaloniere Raniero Buti died suddenly and unexpectedly on 28 June 1474. Raniero Buti ruled Florence as Gonfaloniere for over a decade, in that time continuing the progress made by his predecessor Cosimo de’ Medici. Had he lived longer, instead of dying at age 53, it is possible his legacy could have reached the same level of renown of Cosimo’s. Regardless, he was remembered by the Florentines as a capable, fair, and well liked ruler who kept Florence on the road toward progress and greatness.

In the ensuing election, the Black Guelphs regained power, with their candidate Pietro Traballasi edging the White Guelph’s Ippolito Orsini in a close but surprisingly civil race by Florentine political standards. Traballasi, 49 at the time of his election, was a career administrator and was the sitting governor of the province of Arrezzo. He promised to continue the string of domestic political reforms and technological and artistic investment started by his two predecessors. Traballasi was not one of the boldest or most daring of Florence’s leaders but one of his great qualities was the ability to recognize his own shortcomings. Since he knew little of the art of diplomacy and foreign policy, he gave even greater control and power in this realm to Luigi Montefeltro.


Gonfaloniere Pietro Traballasi

Almost immediately upon taking office, Traballasi was faced with a situation that tested him. 25 July, less than a month after Buti’s death, a plot by a number of Florentine noble families was uncovered to lend their support to Ferrara in its efforts to take Parma. A courier attempting to leave the city of Florence was stopped at one of the gates and searched by the city guard, who had received an anonymous tip to be on the lookout for him. They discovered documents on him addressed to Ercole I, Duke of Ferrara and Modena, describing a plot by certain nobles to undermine the Florentine war effort and deliver Parma to Ferrara instead. The documents included the possibility that they would assassinate the Gonfaloniere. Because Ferrara was a Ghibelline city, suspicion immediately turned to the most prominent Ghibelline families. The incident did increase tension with Ferrara, and the dispute over Parma began to heat up, with the Ferrarese army threatening to cross the border and attack the Florentines.


The plot against the Gonfaloniere was uncovered in the summer of 1474

The fact that no proof of the exact identities of the plotters were discovered, led to calls to expand the Gonfaloniere’s bodyguard and provide him with a permanent retinue of troops for his protection. The Gonfaloniere had always traditionally walked the city with one or at most two personal bodyguards. Traballasi however was unperturbed and, in what would become his signature style of dealing with controversial matters, gave an incredibly dull speech in the Assembly. He argued, essentially, that the Gonfaloniere, whoever he may be, was completely replaceable and that the damage to the city’s republican traditions from giving him a bodyguard fit for a king was not worth the cost. That settled the matter, and the bodyguard question was put aside.


Gonfaloniere Traballasi dismissed the need for the Gonfaloniere to have a large, well armed retinue of guards

Back in Parma, General Vassari and the Florentine army captured the city on 11 August 1474. Vassari entered the city alongside Manfredo Fumagalli and accompanied him back to the Palazzo del Governatore, the seat of the republican government. Also there was Luigi Montefeltro, who had gone to Parma to convince Fumagalli and his government to sign an agreement making Parma a protectorate of Florence. The Parmense leadership, knowing they were still at war with Ferrara and eager to avoid being deposed by some noblemen again, agreed to Florence’s protection. The Republic of Florence was now at war with the Duchy of Ferrara and the Ambrosian Republic of Milan.


The Pact of Friendship placed Parma under the protection of Florence and created a state of war with Ferrara and Milan

The Parmense War, as it would come to be known, was a brief and largely bloodless affair. The Florentine army invaded Ferrara and attempted to force the Ferrarese army under the command of Ercole I into battle but the latter was able to successfully evade them. This did put Florence in a more challenging situation as the combined armies of Ferrara and Milan were larger than the army of Florence. Montefeltro resolved the issue by convincing all of Florence’s allies, Venice, Switzerland, and Castille, to enter the war on their side. After the Florentine army engaged in a minor skirmish with the Ferrarese-Milanese army, and with the Venetians closing in on Milan, Duke Ercole agreed to peace terms. He was forced to grant independence to Modena and pay war reparations to Florence. While these were harsh terms to accept with his army still in the field, the overwhelming military superiority that Florence’s allies brought to the table made the war basically unwinnable from the start. By accepting peace quickly, he avoided the risk of losing all of his lands to either Florence or Venice. The war had established Parma as a protectorate under Florence. The Florentines had finally managed to extend their influence into the Emilia-Romagna region, one of Italy’s most fertile and populous areas.


The Peace of Salsomaggiore ended Ferrara’s quest to capture Parma and granted independence to Modena

The first half of the 1470s saw Florence undergo a significant transition. The deaths of del Rosso and Buti during this period combined with the rise of Montefeltro and Traballasi saw a transition away from military men running the government to diplomats and administrators. This was, in the long run, good for the health of the republic. While the Black Guelphs regained the position of Gonfaloniere through Traballasi, the fact that he kept Montefeltro, a White Guelph, largely in charge of foreign affairs signalled a new level of cooperation between the two parties. The adminstration of Traballasi and Montefeltro created a de facto “unity government” in Florence. This also had the effect, combined with the allegations from the plot against the Gonfaloniere, to further push the Ghibellines toward irrelevance in Florentine politics.