Cromwell

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An update I am hugely happy to see, a real window into your Italy both at home and on the front. It was all brilliant but I particularly liked the naval portions and also the view of domestic affairs during the war, the Queen handles Italy well it seems.

I can't help but worry about the post war settlement, will all of the Holy League members have their war goals satisfied or will someone be left out?

One only has to think of Italy after the the great war or Bulgaria after there first balcan war in our timeline. So many great powers involved mean a great deal will be expected once the Ottomans have been soundly thrashed.
 
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Nikolai

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Seems life goes on, not always easy, as the war in the East is going better than expected.
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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An update I am hugely happy to see, a real window into your Italy both at home and on the front. It was all brilliant but I particularly liked the naval portions and also the view of domestic affairs during the war, the Queen handles Italy well it seems.

I can't help but worry about the post war settlement, will all of the Holy League members have their war goals satisfied or will someone be left out?

One only has to think of Italy after the the great war or Bulgaria after there first balcan war in our timeline. So many great powers involved mean a great deal will be expected once the Ottomans have been soundly thrashed.

I do hope no one notices that austria got a new balkan empire and the italians got the Holy land whilst france got...war debts and Poland helped austria get stronger.
 
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Maximus101

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An excellent update, along with the prior one dealing with the local economics.

Francesco seems to have his search for glory in reach. I hope the violence done makes it worth it in the end.

Hopefully the Austrians were more restrained then the Venetians and the Parthenon survives more intact.
 
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JerseyGiants88

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IN THE NAME OF THE HOLY LEAGUE - DEUS VULT!!

Great update, and well worth the wait.

Seems life goes on, not always easy, as the war in the East is going better than expected.

Ooh, another update, and packed with lots of awesome detail as always. Look forward to seeing how the war wraps up!

Thanks so much. I know it took me a while but I enjoyed writing this update very much and I'm glad it was well received. I like to keep in domestic stuff and background details so it doesn't come out as just a list of battles and results. I'm glad it's appreciated.

Goodness, this is going well. Probably the end of the ottomans as a big power because the Europeans are going to tear them up and keep doing it, as per the game. Definitely the end of the ottomans in europe unless austria and Poland fall out before they finish feasting, and even then austria will eventually be able to take them by themsevles.

All good news for Italy of course.

An update I am hugely happy to see, a real window into your Italy both at home and on the front. It was all brilliant but I particularly liked the naval portions and also the view of domestic affairs during the war, the Queen handles Italy well it seems.

I can't help but worry about the post war settlement, will all of the Holy League members have their war goals satisfied or will someone be left out?

One only has to think of Italy after the the great war or Bulgaria after there first balcan war in our timeline. So many great powers involved mean a great deal will be expected once the Ottomans have been soundly thrashed.

I do hope no one notices that austria got a new balkan empire and the italians got the Holy land whilst france got...war debts and Poland helped austria get stronger.

The war is definitely going quite well, but the post-war period will be far from smooth and easygoing. So everyone predicting trouble is going to be correct.

Hopefully the Austrians were more restrained then the Venetians and the Parthenon survives more intact.

No major atrocities committed during the Austrian capture of Athens. However, the next chapter will be quite a bit heavier on sacking and pillaging. Expect more grimdark as the war progresses.

Speaking of the next update, I am hoping to not have nearly as long of a delay. I already have a good amount done. Thanks everyone for reading.
 
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Casko

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Thanks so much. I know it took me a while but I enjoyed writing this update very much and I'm glad it was well received. I like to keep in domestic stuff and background details so it doesn't come out as just a list of battles and results. I'm glad it's appreciated.

Far too many AAR's are just combat results and gameplay, so the sheer detail you go through is something I most certainly enjoy in an AAR.
And I'll look forwards for more.


And as others said, and as you said, I do hope atleast the architecture survives in Greece and Balkans.
And I do dread what might happen in the oh so stable balkans and middle east now that we're going to be seeing troubles ahead.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 59: Gerusalemme Liberata, 1672-1675

“Canto l'arme pietose e 'l capitano
che 'l gran sepolcro liberò di Cristo.
Molto egli oprò col senno, e con la mano;
Molto soffrì nel glorioso acquisto:
E invan l'Inferno a lui s'oppose; e invano
s'armò d'Asia e di Libia il popol misto:
Chè 'l Ciel gli diè favore, e sotto ai santi
Segni ridusse i suoi compagni erranti.”

-- Torquato Tasso, Gerusalemme Liberata

“You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will: war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it.”
-- General William Tecumseh Sherman, USA

In February of 638, the Caliph Omar and his great Muslim army entered Jerusalem. The Caliph rode a white camel and was dressed in worn, filthy robes. The army that followed him was rough and unkempt, but marched in well-ordered ranks. The holiest city in Judaism and Christendom was now in the hands of a new, upstart religious movement. Omar was the head of a budding empire, one that began when his friend and companion, the Prophet Muhammad, was forced to flee from Mecca to Medina in 622. Omar had been with Muhammad in those difficult times, and together they built from nothing an empire that within two decades appeared poised to conquer the world. By 717, the Caliphate stretched from the Pyrenees to the Indus Valley. For the next millennium, Jerusalem, and its Muslim population in particular, benefited from the rule of a series of enlightened and sophisticated Islamic empires, culminating with the Ottomans, the mightiest and greatest of them all. The brief periods of crusader control of the holy city (1099–1187 and 1229–1244), so celebrated in the West, were but minor blips in the thousand years of glorious Muslim rule.

The Muslim conquests of the Seventh and Eight Centuries eventually triggered a backlash of their own. At first, their military superiority prevented Christians from being a serious threat. The backwards, scattered statelets of Europe could scarcely be expected to stand against a power that had simultaneously defeated the Byzantine and Sassanid Empires, taking large chunks from the former and annihilating the latter. Still, the Islamic push into Europe stopped at the Pyrenees. The Umayyad invasion of Gaul, led by Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, Governor-General of al-Andalus, was halted by Frankish and Aquitanian soldiers commanded by Charles Martel in 732. The Crusades, though ultimately doomed to failure, threatened the Muslim heartland for a century and a half. By the Thirteenth Century, the Italian maritime republics challenged Muslim hegemony in the Mediterranean. The fortunes of Islam burned brightly again with the ascendance of the Ottomans, who conquered Constantinople from the Byzantine Empire in 1453 and shortly thereafter the rest of the Balkan Peninsula. They captured Vienna, capital of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1544 (though they returned the city to the Habsburgs in the subsequent peace). Less than a decade later, however, the tide began to turn again. In 1550, the Emirate of Granada, the last Muslim bastion on the Iberian Peninsula, fell to the Castilians, thus completing the centuries-long Reconquista and uniting Spain. Ottoman momentum in the Balkans petered out and a stalemate ensued, with a militarized frontier acting as a barrier between Poland and Austria on the one side, and the Turks on the other.

Then, 1,034 years after Omar rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, the first Italian scouts, hailing from the Venetian Reggimento San Marco, sighted the spires of the holy city. They excitedly pointed out to each other the golden Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount. Their commander, a grizzled 53-year-old veteran named Francesco Morosini, informed his sovereign and commander that, “the city is ripe for the taking, weakly defended with its walls in disrepair.” Two days later, the Armata di Gerusalemme was encamped before the walls of the city whose name it carried. After more than a millennium of Muslim rule, Jerusalem’s moment of reckoning with Western Latin Christendom was at hand.


7uneSw5.jpg

The “Amico Map” of Jerusalem, made by the Franciscan friar Bernardino Amici around 1620. Francesco II used a copy of this map to plan his maneuver against the city.

Earlier in the month, news filtered into the Italians’ camp that a great army had set out from Egypt to relieve Jerusalem. In truth, this hastily assembled Tunisian force aimed to do little more than join up with their Ottoman allies. Italian intelligence reports highly overestimated their size and capabilities. They were said to be “backed by all the power of the Barbary Corsairs,” as one officer reported breathlessly. The king and his generals decided they did not have time for delay and that Jerusalem must be taken as soon as possible. The holy city was no longer the impressive fortress that had so challenged the men of the First Crusade, but its geography alone ensured it remained a difficult problem to solve. The walls were still in the old, Medieval fashion: vulnerable to sustained cannonades and modern firepower but taller and more difficult to climb than the contemporary Trace Italienne defenses in use elsewhere, such as Damascus. They were laid out when the Roman Emperor Hadrian rebuilt the city and the Byzantines, Umayyads, Fatimids, and Ottomans had added to and repaired them. The eastern walls were protected by the steep slopes of the ravine of the Kedron. On the southeast the ground fell to the Vale of Gehenna. A third valley that was only slightly less deep skirted the western wall. It was only on the southwest, where the wall cut across Mount Zion, and along the length of the northern wall that the terrain favored an attack. Though there were no springs within the city, its ample cisterns secured the water supply. The Roman drainage system, still in use, kept it from disease. The defense of the city was in the hands of the governor, Güven Pasha, who commanded 2,000 Turkish, Arab, and Sudanese troops.

These were not, however, the ragged Christian soldiers that arrived before the walls of the holy city in 1099. The current defenders faced a well-oiled machine of war: the pinnacle of early modern military tactics and training. The invaders were well supplied and possessed the latest and best weaponry available. The Italians’ artillery presented the greatest threat, with direct-firing field guns (used to blast breaches into the walls) and indirect-firing mortars (capable of lobbing massive shells at high trajectory, hitting targets within the walls). There was little hope Jerusalem could hold out for long, only a relief army could save them. Unlike the Italians, who believed that a massive force of Tunisians and Turks was approaching, the defenders knew this was a far-fetched hope. Francesco, however, did not want to take the moment for granted. He knew that a series of miracles had helped the soldiers of the First Crusade overcome the obstacle of Jerusalem’s defenses. A victory without any miracle would be anti-climactic, after all, even in the Seventeenth Century.

On the morning of 24 June 1672, Pietro Priuli, now serving as a papal legate representing His Holiness Innocent XII, testified that the recently deceased Pope Paul V had appeared to him. The Holy Father, fallen patron of the war effort, ordered the crusaders to give up their selfishness and instead take up the fight with repentant hearts. If they did this, Jerusalem would be theirs, and even the vaunted Islamic relief army would crumble before them. Whether this was a true vision of the dead pontiff, or a Seventeenth Century reenactment of the priest Peter Desiderius’s visions of Bishop Ahemar during the First Crusade, is a matter of faith. What is not up for debate, is whether the men of the Armata di Gerusalemme believed it: “Paul V’s” orders were eagerly obeyed. On 24 June, a solemn procession wound around the roads the holy city. The bishops and priests of the crusade came first, led by Priuli, bearing crosses and holy relics. The king and his commanders followed, then the rest of the army, marching in well-ordered ranks around their prize. The Ottoman defenders gathered on the walls to mock the Italians. It is difficult to blame them. The image of firearm-wielding soldiers marching in close-order drill in the service of a pointedly Medieval ceremony must have appeared quite absurd. Once the army completed the circuit, they ascended the Mount of Olives, to make camp for the night and listen to the preaching of some of the Church’s greatest orators. This final gesture turned out to be a ruse in the form of a solemn religious reenactment.

In the middle of the night, Francesco launched a covert attack with two of his finest regiments: the San Marco, who had spearheaded the initial landing and provided the scouts that first sighted the city, along with the illustrious Reggimento del Fiore, whose men hailed almost entirely from Florence and its surrounding hills. The moon that night was about 85% full with zero cloud cover, and the heightened visibility meant a greater chance of being caught. However, the attackers successfully crawled to the foot of the Medieval walls and used ladders to scale them. The garrison, stretched too thin to man all the defenses adequately, was soon overwhelmed. Within a short time, the silence maintained by the attackers’ use of knives on the walls broke in favor of the cacophony of pistols, muskets, and grenades on the streets below. The Italians fanned out across the city. The Venetians of the San Marco made their way to the gates, throwing them open for reinforcements. The Florentines of the Fiore sought out their foes, attacking and destroying any attempts by the garrison to muster and organize a defense. By dawn, all resistance, both military and civilian, had been snuffed out.

The humanity and magnanimity of the Italian army, so readily on display at Caesarea and Damascus, disappeared as they poured into Jerusalem. Just like their Eleventh Century ancestors, the Christian conquerors unleashed a horrific slaughter on the city. This was calculated and deliberate, meant to provoke a reaction across the enemy’s lands and send a message to the great Sultan in Istanbul. Francesco II allowed his troops to sack Jerusalem for three full days. Most of the male Muslim population was put to the sword. Countless women and children were marched off in chains and sold to agents of the Sultan of Yemen, who was more than happy to profit from his rivals’ sufferings. By the afternoon of the 28th, most of the horror was complete. The king ordered an end to the pillaging and he and his officers restored order. The massacre of the Muslims at Jerusalem profoundly impressed all observers. Many of the king’s own officers were horrified by what was done. The king justified the killing in later years by claiming he never ordered his soldiers to do anything the Ottomans had not previously done to Christian cities. To add to the “war of annihilation” motif, Francesco ordered all material bearing the sultan’s crest or coat of arms to be made into a pile and burned outside the walls. At some point, soldiers tired of sifting through dusty tomes and shuttling them to the burn pile, simply lit the archives on fire, sparking a conflagration that destroyed up to a fourth of the homes in the city, only deepening the misery. Countless manuscripts, records, and chronicles detailing the history of the city were lost. The property records were also destroyed, thus allowing the Italians to repossess all Muslim homes and business in the city on the grounds that there was no proof they were owned by anybody. The writer Giovanni Paolo Marana described the urban hellscape as “a glimpse at the apocalypse” (Marana would later go on to write Letters Writ by a Turkish Spy, an epistolary novel which judges the history and manners of Europe and especially of Italy, from an Ottoman perspective). Among the region’s Muslims, many of whom had been ready to accept Italian rule, there was henceforth a clear determination that the foreign invaders must be driven out. It was this bloodthirsty proof of Christian fanaticism that reignited the fanaticism of Islam. When, in the years following the war, Muslim subjects rose up against their new rulers from beyond the sea, with enough men to constitute entire armies, their vicious attacks against Italian troops were often motivated by appeals to the suffering of the faithful at Jerusalem in 1672.

The Jews of Jerusalem fared slightly better than both their contemporary Muslim co-inhabitants and their own Eleventh Century ancestors. Jews were to be treated “as Christians” by the soldiers and because of this, unlike in 1099, they were not burned to death trapped in their synagogues. The Jews of Jerusalem were likely beneficiaries of the longstanding efforts by their Italian brethren of cultivating good relations with the Medici. Still, not all of them escaped unharmed. Many were caught up in the slaughter meant to target their Muslim neighbors. Too often, orders from the king to leave Jews unmolested were ignored. Even Orthodox Christians of various stripes were murdered, raped, beaten, and robbed. In the days following the initial invasion of the city, one of the senior rabbis, Moshe ben Yonatan Galante, who had familial and intellectual ties to Italy, was able to negotiate a series of reparations to rebuild homes and storefronts in Jerusalem’s Jewish sections. Galante and the king went on to form a friendship and their correspondence, preserved in the Medici archives, remained steady until the latter’s death.

For those Jews and Orthodox Christians who survived the initial massacre, the post-occupation terms turned out similar to the previous regime’s. Muslims, who previously enjoyed a privileged status under Ottoman rule, were reduced to second-class citizens. Purposefully, their new overlord adapted this method from Islamic tradition. On 1 July, Francesco II met with the remaining leaders of the city’s various faiths and laid out his vision for the future. As always, the king was conscious of the historical importance of his decision. Thus, he adopted his solutions from history as well. After Jerusalem first fell to the armies of Islam in 638, the Caliph was in a similar position. Omar asked his guide, Sophronius the Sophist, Patriarch of Jerusalem, to take him to the shrines of the Christians. While there, the time for Muslim prayer came and the Caliph went outside to the porch of the Martyrium, for fear, he said, lest his zealous followers might claim the church for Islam. Accordingly, the porch was taken over by the Muslims, but the church remained as it had been: the holiest sanctuary of Christendom. This was because the Prophet Muhammad himself had ordained that, while the heathen should be offered the choice of conversion or death, the “People of the Book,” Christians, Jews, and, by courtesy, Zoroastrians, should be allowed to retain their places of worship and to use them without hindrance. However, they could not add to them, nor could they carry arms nor ride on horseback, and that they must pay a special capitation tax, known as the jizya. Now, the new conqueror, the King of Italy, sought to maintain this system, but in reverse. In addition to the Christian churches and the Jewish synagogues, the king extended full rights and protection to all the city’s mosques, with the same restrictions previously in place for churches. In the short term, this was not enough to thwart the coming rebellions against Italian rule. The massacres and humiliations of the Great Crusade were too much to overcome. Perhaps, an offer of reparations, as Francesco made to the Jews and Orthodox Christians, could have helped, but such material relief was not forthcoming. Still, in the longer term, this moderate policy would limit inter-faith violence in the following century.


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Church of the Holy Sepulcre

When news of the fall of Jerusalem reached the Ottoman capital, the reaction was subdued. While they mourned for those killed in the city, the Sultan, Grand Vizier, and other court notables knew the implacable march of the Holy League armies in the Balkans was the more dire threat. For the time being, the fatalistic attitude that would pervade the court in the months to come was not yet fully manifested. They still believed that their mighty armies could roll back the enemy advance.

In Europe, on the other hand, the capture of Jerusalem sparked jubilation. In Krakow, Paris, Amsterdam, Venice, Munich, Vienna, Prague, and countless other cities, church bells rang in jubilation and people celebrated and got drunk in the streets. Even in London, capital of Catholicism’s most implacable Protestant foe, men drank to the health of the Christian armies. Pope Innocent XII declared a day of thanksgiving and doubled the distribution of alms to the poor. In Spain and Portugal, two states notably absent from the crusade, celebrations broke out in Madrid, Sevilla, Lisbon, Porto, Valencia, and elsewhere. Cries of “¡Viva los Valois!” and “¡Viva los Médici!” must have rankled Trastámara sensibilities. When the news reached New Orleans in mid-August, via the drunk and disorderly crew of an Italian frigate, the ensuing rowdy celebration in the sweltering Louisiana heat transformed into a slave revolt. While many were caught, large numbers of enslaved people escaped to find refuge with Chickasaw and Caddo tribes to the north or else in Scotland to the east. Further afield, the Ming Emperor Zhangang II penned a congratulatory epistle to the "splendid warlord" and offered good pay if Francesco and his warriors would come fight for him against the Sultan of Yarkand.

At home, in addition to celebrations both solemn and debauched, the capture of Jerusalem became the inspiration to every poet and writer aiming to be the new Tasso. In Florence, Queen Maria Maddalena allowed the churches to ring their bells in celebration, but she maintained a stoic resolve for herself. “It is your duty to celebrate,” she told Simonetta Pazzi, her friend and lady in waiting, “it is my duty to remain focused on the future of the realm.” She knew the war was far from over, and a great deal of tough fighting surely still lay ahead.

Among the men of the Armata di Gerusalemme, the euphoric celebrations that followed the capture of Jerusalem were short-lived. Soon, the grim reality of the war returned to the forefront. For those on the front lines, it was clear that despite its monumental symbolic importance, Jerusalem meant little from a strategic perspective. Its crumbling fortifications made it difficult to hold, as proven by the city’s reluctant Ottoman defenders. The question remained as to what kind of “Conquest of Jerusalem” this one would be remembered as. Francesco surely intended for it to go down alongside the conquest of the city by the First Crusade in 1099 or Saladin’s recapture of it in 1187. More pessimistically, it could sink to the level of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II’s campaign in the Sixth Crusade, which led to the brief and ill-fated revival of the Kingdom of Jerusalem from 1229 to its ignominious end at the hands of Khwarazmian clans in 1244. In order to craft a legacy worthy of his ambitions, the king needed to win the whole war. He did not slack off, nor did he let his men lose focus. The boost in troop morale as a result of capturing Jerusalem was undeniable. The expedition had won all its battles thus far and captured a key prize. A strong religious fervor gripped the men that would carry them through the end of hostilities.


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The Tunisian relief army, the same one whose rumored approach prompted the expedited capture of Jerusalem, was finally sighted in mid-July. It was a fraction of its previously rumored grand size. With 21,000 men, Rasim Bassir’s troops would make a nice addition to the struggling Ottoman armies further north, but on their own, they presented little threat to the Armata di Gerusalemme, who boasted nearly twice their number. Once again, Francesco sprung a successful trap. This time, he had the advantage in terms of knowledge of the terrain. Most of the Tunisians, including Bassir himself, had little understanding of the land. The Italians, on the other hand, had been in the Levant for months and were well seasoned. Again, using the heights around Damascus, they swarmed down on the passing Tunisians on 26 July and vanquished yet another foe. With the road cleared, the victorious troops marched on Gaza, the southern gate to the Holy Land. They reached the fortress on 19 August and dutifully set about laying siege to the place. The King of Italy, with his men operating on tenuous supply lines and deep in hostile territory, was stringing together an impressive series of victories.

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Grenadiers of the Reggimento San Marco attack an Ottoman fort in Gaza

At this point, the focus of the drama shifted from the Holy Land to the Balkans. Having steamrolled their opposition thus far, the armies of Christendom closed in on the enemy’s capital: Istanbul. Known at the time in Christendom by its Roman name, Constantinople, the metropolis was one of the largest in the world. Boasting a population of about 700,000, it was neck and neck with Beijing for the title of world’s biggest city. All the major trade routes through Europe, Asia, and Africa converged on it, and Istanbul was splendidly wealthy as a result. The teeming bazars featured goods from as far afield as Ming China and French Mexico. The Ottomans required a world city, worthy of their empire, and their capital was seemingly designed by geography and history to be capital of a great empire. The sultans called themselves “world-conqueror”, “the King of the World”. One of the favorite epithets, both of the sultans and their city, soon became alem penah, “refuge of the world.” It appeared appropriate to create a multinational capital for an empire which, it was later calculated, contained seventy-two and a half nationalities. Multinationalism became the essence of Constantinople. A common literary device of Ottoman writers would be to compare the merits and looks of the many nationalities in the empire and its capital. Greeks, Armenians, Jews, and many others, including Italians, called the city home. All of this wealth and culture was now in grave danger.

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As summer turned to fall, major currents were at work in the Balkan theater. One of the key allied commanders, Archduke Philip I of Austria, died on 5 May 1672 while on campaign with his army, most likely of dysentery. His grandson and successor, the newly crowned Archduke Franz I, was still only 14 years old and thus Austria briefly fell under a regency council. However, Philip’s death caused no slowdowns at the front. The Holy League armies plowed on through the summer, scoring decisive victories at Mohács, Niš Vidin, and Belgrade. King Louis XX and Simon de Saint Germain of France, Maksym Skarbeck of Poland, Settimo De Canio of the Papal State, and Carlo Grimaldi of Italy, met at Plovdiv on 22 October 1672, just two days after that city fell to the Papal army. The army supplied by the Papal State for the war was surprisingly competent and effective. Eschewing the Renaissance-era tradition of inept, cowardly armies marching forth from Rome, the soldiers sent to the Balkans by the Holy See punched above their weight in numbers.

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Settimo De Canio led a well disciplined and effective Papal Army

More significantly, popular attitudes in the region were changing. The arrival of mighty Christian armies, capable of inflicting actual defeats against the Ottomans, revived a dormant politically and socially rebellious spirit among Albanians, Croats, Serbs, Bulgarians, Greeks, and other Christian ethnic groups long under the Turks’ rule. In the years between the initial Islamic conquest and the Great Crusade, the resistance and rebellion of the early post-invasion years had given way to long periods of stagnation and apathy. The latter years of the Great Crusade saw a rebirth of anti-Ottoman activity. Whether it was gangs of jewelry-clad, low-born bandits or dashing, adventurous noblemen, they terrorized what remained of the Ottoman civil service in the Balkans. Armed gangs attacked officials in the streets and raided caravans carrying supplies for the Turkish armies. These bands sparked a long list of local folk heroes like the Croats Siniša Sambunjak and Viktor Trobić, the Hungarians Kelemen Géza and Bodnár Botond, the Serbs Dobroslav Gojković and Obrad Despotović, and many, many others.

Nowhere was there greater ferment than in Albania. It began when the nobleman and Istanbul-appointed Sanjak-bey, Becan Zimisces, openly declared his refusal to recognize the sultan’s jurisdiction in his lands any longer. He abolished the jizya, earning him widespread gratitude among the downtrodden peasantry. A number of other wealthy noblemen and adventurers joined the uprising, including Rrezor Nooja, Duri Mali, and Guximor Useni. While all of them would become popular folk heroes, none would be more successful than Albania’s most charismatic cavalier: Sadik Zrinski. Claiming descent from the legendary Albanian leader Skanderbeg, whose guerilla tactics vexed the Ottomans in the 15th Century, the teenaged Zrinski organized his own militias who, along with the Zimisces’ forces drove all remaining Ottoman officials out of Albania. The death of his father on the eve of the Great Crusade had left Zrinski at the head of one of Albania’s wealthiest and most powerful noble families. Originally from the Croatian-Hungarian nobility, the Zrinskis had moved to the Adriatic coast city of Durrës in the early 1500s. Over the years they gained wealth and power, forming alliances with merchants around the Mediterranean. Alongside his formidable (and famously beautiful) sister, Luliana, Sadik Zrinski cashed in on those connections to build the most powerful political base in the country. He turned the port of Durrës into a depot for the Italian navy, with Admiral Veneroso calling him, “a most welcome friend of the fleet.” By the end of the Great Crusade, Zrinski was, without any formal title or authority, the most powerful man in the western Balkans.


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Durrës

Having captured the major Italian objectives in the region, Ragusa and Corfu, Carlo Grimaldi proposed moving the Armata dei Balcani to Egypt. The Italian expeditionary force in the Levant had been fortunate to that point, but Francesco II was concerned that the allied drive on Istanbul could cause the Ottomans to withdraw fully to the Asian side of the Bosporus and use the opportunity to launch a counter-attack to the South. He wanted Grimaldi to join him, thus increasing his chances of survival.

Indeed, the idea of abandoning the European part of the empire in favor of fighting exclusively in Asia Minor and the Levant was a course of action favored by Hüseyin Alemdar. The veteran Albanian commander argued in support of eliminating the more minor Italian threat in the south before fully focusing on the true threat coming from the north. Furthermore, he and a number of other senior officers embraced the radical idea of evacuating Edirne and Istanbul altogether, and moving the sultan, the court, and all the remaining field armies south onto the Asian mainland. They would concede the capital, but it would give them a chance to stymie any allied attempts to cross the Bosporus or Dardanelles. However, Alemdar’s defeat to the Italians earlier in the war had discredited him in court and he was hesitant to push the issue too strongly. With the losses piling up, it was getting difficult to find an officer with an unblemished record. Additionally, as the Grand Vizier Cüneyt Gazi Pasha repeatedly pointed out to his sovereign, these commanders were thinking only from a military perspective. The vizier had to consider the political and diplomatic aspects as well. The idea of abandoning the imperial capital was unthinkable for him. Even after the fall of Edirne on 24 November, a former capital itself and a city of great emotional importance to the House of Osman, Gazi Pasha remained opposed. Close to 100,000 Holy League soldiers were marching toward the Golden Horn, yet there was no organized plan for a defense. As he had for most of the war to date, the vizier hedged his bets, refusing to commit to any theater fully. In the end, this proved disastrous. A well-organized and led stand in the Balkans may have saved the day. The Ottomans still had a slight numerical advantage over the invaders. A determined, focused Ottoman effort at this point in the war could also have destroyed the Italian expedition to the Holy Land. A bold stroke, such as capturing or killing the King of Italy, could have dramatically shifted the course of the war. Instead, the Ottomans moved decisively against no one, preferring to wait.

Back at Plovdiv, there were few objections to moving the Armata dei Balcani across the Mediterranean. The French and Poles were already focused on their prize: Istanbul. They meant to beat the Austrians to the great city in order to secure as much booty as possible for themselves. One less army meant one less share of spoils to divide. As soon as the Italians smoothed over their departure with the rest of their allies, they set out immediately to return to their army, which was encamped at Larissa waiting for its next set of orders. With a monumental effort from the Italian navy, the transfer of the Armata dei Balcani to Egypt was quick and seamless. They made a brief stopover in Cyprus, then were shuttled to Egypt so that by December the campaign to conquer the former Mamluk heartland began in earnest.

Grimaldi left 5,000 men behind in the Balkans under the command of the young Roman patrician Vittorio Orsini. A childhood friend of the king and a cousin of the Pope, he had already made a name for himself as a capable of courageous leader of troops, particularly during the Siege of Corfu. He had recently been made Duke of Bracciano, a Papal fief, as a reward for assisting Innocent XII’s ascension to the Throne of St. Peter. Orsini would gain even more wealth and titles following the war. He was the sort of military officer who elicited a “love or hate” reaction in those he met, though among his own soldiers he was revered. With no clear mission other than to reinforce and support the allied armies, Orsini would soon find a crucial niche for himself and his men. From Larissa, they set out to join the stream of Catholic soldiers heading for the Ottoman capital. Upwards of 55,000 Poles, 45,000 Austrians, 40,000 Frenchmen, and 20,000 Papal troops were already on their way to the Ottoman capital. Only 46,000 Turkish troops stood in their way, and even these quickly and wisely withdrew across the straits after an indecisive yet costly defeat at the hands of the Poles at Alexandroupoli. The rest of the Ottoman strength remained stuck in Anatolia, biding their time and waiting for orders. Orsini and his troops, still carrying the name Armata dei Balcani, linked up with the Poles and their Grand Hetman. Skarbeck and Orsini, despite their temperamental differences, struck up a friendship and would collaborate well for the remainder of the crusade.

It was the French, however, who arrived outside the walls of Istanbul first on 11 October 1672. Led by the adventurer Simon de Saint Germain, this army of Frenchmen had a rowdy, boisterous swagger and seemed aware of its coming role as a sledgehammer of history. Men pored over maps of the city trying to determine the best places to loot while those with gambling debts offered shares of booty to put towards repayment. Saint Germain soon sent word back to Thessaloniki (where Louis XX had set up a base of operations) for the king to join the army. This, after all, was to be Louis’s payoff for participating in the war. The monarch wished to oversee not only the siege, but the subsequent expropriation of the city. The metropolis was undefended aside from a few thousand determined janissaries under the command of the Kadi, or municipal leader, Güneş Bolukbasi. With a pre-war population of nearly 700,000, Istanbul was one of the world’s largest cities and she was now on the precipice of disaster.


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The Siege of Istanbul

As the allies prepared their siege lines, the imperial court remained in the city, against the wishes of many senior military commanders. The young sultan was inspired by the bravado of Hüseyin Hadim, the new most favored Ottoman general at court, and his word was what mattered to the youthful ruler. Distrusted by Gazi Pasha, who considered him a volatile hothead, Hadim consistently preached that victory was within their grasp and the city would be saved. Still, the sultan swung from moments of exuberant confidence to the depths of melancholy. By the early winter of 1672, Selim had likely accepted the loss of his capital and city of birth as inevitable. This ruler was of the same blood as Mehmed II “the Conqueror” and Mustafa II “the Great”; conquerors of Istanbul and Baghdad, respectively; but he lacked their strong-willed character and fierce resolve. He was at heart a timid, gentle soul thrust into a historical moment he was ill-equipped to handle, particularly at that tender age. Still, the young emperor grimly resolved, weeks after the arrival of Saint Germain and his French troops, to stay at the Topkapı Palace and suffer the same fate as his subjects. “The Successor of the Prophet of the Lord of the Universe cannot flee before a rabble of Frankish barbarians,” he declared in early November, in uncharacteristically bombastic fashion.

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Hüseyin Hadim Pasha

With the Ottoman Empire’s greatest city under siege, all possibilities now seemed open to the allies. Back in the Holy Land, Francesco’s ambitions spread beyond Palestine. All North Africa seemed open for the taking and the House of Osman appeared to be a spent force. He was not far off in his calculation, indeed only further suffering was to be inflicted on the already wounded Islamic powers. For Italy, standing on the opposite side, the opportunity was too good to pass up. It was at this point, that Francesco made the fateful decision to simultaneously expand Italian power to imperial levels, while also setting up a tragic ending for the Holy League as a diplomatic project. He sent new orders to Grimaldi and his soldiers while they were in Cyprus resting and refitting after their first campaign. Francesco ordered the army, re-dubbed the Armata d’Egitto, to landed on the south shore of the Mediterranean with two missions: conquer Egypt and then seek out and destroy the corsair fleets in their homeports.

The expedition landed in late December after the Italian navy successfully crossed the rough seasonal waters again with minimal losses. Because the Great Crusade did not involve any great battles at sea, historians have largely overlooked the naval side of the war. However, the efficient organization of the Italian navy and the skill and tenacity of her sailors allowed the kingdom to quickly move large armies across the sea with minimal losses. Giovanni Battista Veneroso had set the stage for success in the years ahead of the war, but carried out the execution of his plans just as well. The advantage on the seas gave Francesco II and his commanders on land a decisive strategic advantage. In Italy, massive naval supply depots at Venice, Messina, Taranto, and Bari loaded ship after ship full of goods for the armies overseas. In the Middle East, following behind the land expeditions, masses of architects, masons, and laborers arrived to rebuild and expand the ports at Caesarea, Acre, Tyre, and, later, Alexandria and Benghazi.

The Italians took Alexandria soon after their arrival and celebrated the new year in the conquered city. Grimaldi, showing his own diplomatic skills, quickly made contact with the local Christian populations in and around the city. The local Copts and Orthodox were willing to help the invaders, but for a price. Their situation under the Ottomans was not so desperate that they would betray their sovereign, with all the risk such a gambit involved, for free. Grimaldi met with the Greek Orthodox and Coptic Patriarchs of Alexandria along with other notables representing both groups. The Orthodox were led by Patriarch Paisios Ligarides, who had a reputation as a wily and astute salesman (a poor reputation according to some; he had been accused of selling indulgences in Moscow years before being named Patriarch). The Copts, on the other hand, were led by the charismatic Pope (later Saint) Matthew IV (born Anba Matta El-Meeri). Matthew had never been shy to make bold moves; on his first day as patriarch, he transferred the seat of the Pope of Alexandria to a new church. Now, he saw an opportunity to gain good concessions for his people in exchange for their assistance against the Ottomans.

Each patriarch agreed to provide several companies of scouts, supplied by some of the local militias and city watches. They guaranteed the friendly disposition of their respective followers, as well as food supply deliveries and the provision of pack animals. Finally, at Grimaldi’s insistence, they endorsed a clause wherein the patriarchs would make a good faith effort to reach communion with the Roman Church. In return for such a good offer, Grimaldi made full use of the diplomatic powers bestowed upon him by the king. The general assuaged any fears of Ottoman reprisal by revealing Francesco’s intention to annex Egypt. He promised that under the new regime, the Orthodox and the Copts would be granted the same rights as Catholics in the annexed territories. Alexandria, not Cairo, would become the administrative, political, and economic capital, with Coptic and Orthodox merchants given privileged trading rights with Italy. Finally, the commander promised huge infrastructure investments for Alexandria. The deal, dubbed the Alexandria Accord, would have far ranging consequences for Christendom in the Holy Land. It brought Egypt’s Christian minorities closer to the orbit of Rome, and by joining their political fate with that of the Catholic Church, laid the groundwork for further reconciliation in the years to come. Still, the overwhelmingly privileged position created for the city of Alexandria under the accord would lead to widespread discontent in the rest of Egypt, bringing about rebellion and bloodshed throughout the land in the post-war years.

Building on their momentum from the capture of Alexandria, the Armata d’Egitto, guided by their new Coptic and Orthodox Christian allies, quickly moved out. Splitting up the army, they took Faiyum and Rosetta on 7 January; then Dumyat on 23 January, Minya on 24 January, Gharbeyya on 13 February, and Asyut on 14 February. On 20 December, they arrived before the walls of Cairo, prepared to start a siege of their own.


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The Italian blitz in Egypt

On 11 March 1673 Francesco II and the Armata di Gerusalemme took Gaza after a 204-day siege. There were no atrocities this time. The tenacious defenders, having earned the king’s respect, were allowed to march out with their weapons and banners. Keeping his word not to harm the population, Francesco ordered only a small force in to secure the city and kept the rest of his army outside the walls. On the same day, a detachment from the Armata d’Egitto took Ras Gareb. By mid-March, elements of that army entered Libya, taking Benghazi on the 21st. This city did not suffer as many of the depredations as the later captures in North Africa, but the invaders burned most of the buildings in the port along with all of the ships. By early May, even Cairo was ready to fall. With their food supplies exhausted, water running critically low, and a scorching summer about to begin, the defenders surrendered. Cairo too was spared Jerusalem’s fate, though she did not escape entirely free from damage. After the Italians entered, they ran amuck for several hours before Grimaldi and his officers were able to regain control. Thankfully, the general was an ardent medievalist and had an appreciation for Islam’s role in civilization. He thus preemptively sent the Iron Legion, one of his most well-disciplined and trustworthy regiments, to secure Al-Azhar University and prevent its looting and destruction. The city also had the unwitting advantage of being a target for annexation: it would have been imprudent for the Italians to destroy a city they would later have to rebuild.

In Istanbul, the brewing rivalry between Alemdar and Hüseyin Hadim Pasha consumed the court. The pair represented opposing views for how the rest of the war was to be conducted and their battle of wills was about to reach its disastrous climax. Alemdar favored a crossing of the Dardanelles in an effort to cut off the Holy League’s rear, threaten their supply lines, and force a withdrawal. It was a modest plan but could buy time for the Ottomans to regroup and stave off the catastrophic loss of Istanbul. This was the course supported by Grand Vizier Gazi Pasha. Hadim Pasha, on the other hand, wanted to conduct a bold strike against the allied siege lines. He came from an aristocratic family from Konya in the Karaman Eyalet in central Anatolia. He was a disciple of the martyred general Mustafa Piyale and embraced his mentor’s aggressive command style. He was considered by most of the court to be a promising, young, up-and-coming commander. The Sultan, teenage boy that he was, respected Alemdar, but he truly admired Hadim. The latter’s brash demeanor, that of a swashbuckling adventurer, delighted the young emperor and filled his head with dreams of battlefield glory. Selim I was not yet the commander he would later become, and he was still forced to live out his martial ambitions vicariously through his generals.

Part of the problem for the Ottomans was communication. The sultan’s determination to endure the siege in Istanbul was brave and boosted morale within the walls. However, with all his remaining field armies across the straits in Anatolia, coordinating with his troops became a challenge. A system of small crafts was set up with relay stations on both banks of the Bosporus. Messages arrived on one side, got ferried across to the other, and then delivered to their destination. Thus, the Alemdar-Hadim debates over strategy were conducted via exactly this sort of correspondence. The sultan, torn between the two sides, hedged his bets, overruling his Grand Vizier, who still supported Alemdar. The sultan had over 150,000 troops at his disposal ready to fight, and thus the hopes of saving Istanbul were still very real. Selim gave word to Alemdar to try his plan first, but only provided him with the 50,000 men directly under his command, encamped at the time outside of Biga, on the Anatolian side of the Dardanelles. Only a few days after sending that order, the sultan authorized Hadim to undertake his own attack, to strike at the Holy League’s siege lines directly. How Selim and Gazi Pasha reached this decision is unclear, but it is possible they hoped a simultaneous strike on both ends of the front could catch the enemy between two armies and destroy them. Such a victory would have altered the course of the war dramatically. However, Alemdar and Hadim did no coordination with each other, and the sultan and his vizier failed to communicate with either field army. It is unclear the leadership in the Topkapı Palace intended for them to work in tandem, but either way, the generals did not, leading to disastrous consequences.

Under this disjointed plan, Alemdar and his troops managed a successful crossing of the Dardanelles on 6 June 1673 and landed near Gallipoli. From there they began to march quickly to the northeast, aiming to get off the peninsula before the allies had a chance to block them in. However, the Holy League commanders managed to get word of this maneuver and quickly moved to cut off the Turks. On 15 June, the Holy League army took up a position east of the town of Adilhan, straddling the road to Edirne. Alemdar and his men found themselves isolated and facing a far larger enemy army.

The Holy League troops, under the command of Prince Henryk Poniatowski, grandson of King Jan IV, arrived well prepared. Henryk was young, barely 19 years old, but he was a sound strategic thinker and knew when to defer to more experienced commanders. He also had the weight of his position behind him. The recent death of his father, August Poniatowski, back in Poland made him the likely successor to Jan IV (the Sejm had final say on matters of kingship in Poland) and an important player in the front-line politics of the Balkan campaign. He was likable and charismatic, managing to win over his grudging Austrian allies and getting them to fight hard under his command. With a numerical advantage of nearly two to one, he and his men were able to grind out a hard-fought win against a determined foe. Alemdar and his troops, for their part, fought better tactically than their foes. At the end of a long day of battle, they had managed to inflict more casualties than they had taken (about 15,000 Ottomans to 20,000 allied soldiers) and pushed back the Holy League troops on the right flank. However, Alemdar saw no path to victory, and rather than risk having his force cut off and destroyed, he ordered a withdrawal. The Ottomans broke contact under cover of darkness and successfully evacuated back to the shore, near the village of Kızılcaterzi. They were then ferried back across the strait to the safety of Anatolia. The old Albanian general made the prudent move, and successfully conducted a risky withdrawal in good order. However, this did little to satisfy his superiors in Istanbul, who temporarily exiled him from service (it would not be long before he was called back to duty, nor his last time in exile). For the young Polish prince, on the other hand, this great victory was just the beginning of a meteoric rise over the course of the war, which would end with him sitting on the throne in Warsaw.


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The Battle of Adilhan marked the first failed Ottoman attempt to relieve the Siege of Istanbul.

With Alemdar’s failure, it was Hadim’s turn to try and break the siege of Istanbul. With the heightened stakes, he was given twice the number of troops to do the job. With over 100,000 men under his command, the Turkish general represented the last, best hope to save the imperial capital. He insisted to the Sultan that he would deliver a great victory against “the Franks.” No doubt, he eyed the position of Grand Vizier for himself, and he already begun gathering about him a faction seeking to undermine Cüneyt Gazi Pasha. With dreams of glory both on the battlefield and at court, Hadim took command of the remaining Ottoman forces in Anatolia and prepared to launch his daring counterattack. His plan was to execute an amphibious assault on the allied rear, cutting them off and crushing them between his army and the heavily fortified capital. Gazi Pasha considered the plan reckless, needlessly exposing their valuable army to potentially catastrophic risk. He told the sultan that the general was underestimating the enemy’s strength and overestimating his own ability to maneuver such a large army on a small peninsula. The sultan brushed off those concerns. The Padishah had bought in fully to his young general’s plan, and nothing short of a battlefield disaster could dissuade him.

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From The Allegory of the Turskish War: Hadim Pasha Promises Victory Before Istanbul

Despite Hadim’s grand visions, Gazi Pasha’s more realistic estimates of the campaign’s difficulties soon proved more accurate. The ideal place for the army to land was on the coast of the Sea of Marmara, directly west of the capital. However, there was the possibility of being intercepted by heavily armed Italian ships patrolling those waters. The Catholic fleet had forced its way through the Dardanelles after Edirne fell to the Poles the previous November. The Golden Horn was still protected by a series of heavy guns in the coastal forts, but any access by sea was now extremely dangerous. Instead, Hadim Pasha decided to move his men via the north end of the Bosporus, closer to the Black Sea coast.

Despite the challenges, on 29 June 1673, just two weeks after the Holy League victory at Adilhan, Hadim oversaw the transport of his massive host from Poyraz on the Anatolian side to Garipçe on the European side. Though they landed only ten kilometers northeast of the allied lines, the rugged terrain prevented any rapid counterattack that could have caught the Turks mid-crossing. Another factor playing to the Ottomans’ advantage was the growing disunity and acrimony on the Holy League side.


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Hadim Pasha and the Ottoman army preparing to cross the Bosporus

Allied success in the battle was going to depend as much on diplomacy as generalship. Facing a serious Ottoman effort, coordination between the armies was crucial. Communication breakdowns between commands nearly led to disaster at Belgrade and Tarnovo (the Austrians with the Poles, in the case of the former, and with the French, in the case of the latter). In both instances, a few lucky breaks and several moments of brilliance by junior officers in key parts of the battlefield staved off defeat. However, these near debacles did little to boost confidence and trust among the different sides. As the campaign proceeded and the armies lingered around the enemy capital, tempers began to fray. The feverish reports of a looming Ottoman counterattack, which had pervaded the army camps since they first arrived, appeared to be finally coming true. The mix of volatile personalities among the Christians presented a serious challenge. When all the interested parties had met at Plovdiv nine months earlier, the stakes had not been as high and there was more breathing room. Now, with the greatest prize of all within grasp, the rivalries and divisions came to the forefront.

The Polish Grand Hetman, Maksym Skarbeck, animated by reckless courage and an “invincible hatred” for “the Turk” (as his Italian counterparts reported back to Florence), was headstrong and favored an aggressive posture. At the Battle of Florești, he had led his men on charge after charge, always “the first on the hunt,” eyes lit up with fury. It was a miracle he survived. Ottoman officers who talked to Skarbeck during their subsequent captivity reported that the general relished the prospect of revenge for years of Turkish attacks along the frontier. Along with him was the celebrated Prince Henryk Poniatowski, fresh off his victory over Alemdar. Their relationship straddled the line between battlefield allies and political enemies. They came from the two most powerful noble families in their home country, and their relationship carried all the baggage a centuries old rivalry brought with it.

The French had a pair of strong personalities of their own present. King Louis XX and his general, Simon de Saint Germain, shared a passion for battlefield glory and fine works of art. They intended to gain much of both at Istanbul. The French king, at the front of the order of precedence for the assembled military leaders, insisted on prime positions for his troops and the right to be the first to enter the city. At first, he dismissed the threat from Hadim entirely, accusing the Austrians of planning a ruse to dislodge his armies from their preferred positions on the siege lines. Only Saint Germain’s ability to convince his sovereign of the contrary preserved French participation in the coming battle.

The Austrian presence was less top heavy, but perhaps more effective that way. The death of Archduke Philip in May deprived them of their sovereign in the field. Instead, the Austrians, under their commander Johann Freystadt, took up with the Italians. Hailing from an aristocratic Silesian family, Freystadt was the sort of no-nonsense officer who felt more comfortable stepping aside and letting others squabble instead. After all, if two of his previously aligned rivals were at odds, it was in his and his employer’s interest to let them stay that way. The reserved, taciturn soldier decided instead to plan a counter to the Turkish maneuver. The Austro-Italian brain trust that planned the battle to come included, on the Austrian side, Jannik von Steyr, Count of Amstetten, and Matteo Weichselbraun, Count of Spitz, both wily old veterans of anti-Ottoman campaigns. Despite their status as Austrian noblemen and vassals of the Archduke, both had spent years fighting on the Polish frontier, at times alongside Skarbeck himself. This history gave the pair added credibility in the eyes of the Poles, who otherwise considered their Austrian counterparts to be soft, and perhaps a touch too civilized to be fighting Turks. On the Italian side, the Austrians enlisted the aid of Orsini, as well as the Papal commander, Settimo De Canio, and his lieutenant, Pietro Chigi. Chigi’s family was allied to Orsini’s in the cutthroat politics of the Roman patrician nobility, thus the two made natural allies on the battlefield as well. Th group was backed up by Theodorus van Steenoven, Archbishop of Amsterdam, Cardinal, and Papal Legate for the Crusade in the Balkans. Cardinal van Steenoven’s word carried the same wait as if uttered by the pontiff himself. It was these personal and professional relationships that kept the alliance together and led to victory in the battles to come.

On the night of 1 July, Freystadt called a war council and the Austrians presented their plan to attack the Turks to the rest of the assembled allies. The minutes of the meeting, as well as the initial plan itself, are lost to history. However, by numerous reports, after being sharply questioned on details of the plan by King Louis XX, Orsini and Chigi both voiced their support for the German. Orsini had already laid the foundations behind the scenes. Prince Henryk was also skeptical. He was sensitive to the idea that Poland was treated as a lesser ally despite its more than equal contribution of manpower. He was offended that the Austrians and the Italians would plan an attack without consulting Poland and France first, the two primary powers (in his eyes, at least). To the surprise of many, it was the Grand Hetman of Poland, Skarbeck, who turned the discussion back in favor of the Austrian plan. “For the sake Christendom,” he is reported to have said, contradicting the prince, “I set aside all past grievances between us and look forward only to glorious victory.” The Polish prince’s reaction is unknown, but he could not have been happy. Publicly rebuked before the entire allied leadership by his own countryman, Henryk dropped his case. There was nothing the scorned prince could do. Skarbeck was the more accomplished soldier and he had the loyalty of the army. The French, now the lone dissenting side, finally gave in. Louis XX, reportedly with a shrug, is said to have uttered the words, “and so let us do battle.”

With all the back and forth over the plan of battle, the question of command was resolved surprisingly swiftly. When Skarbeck volunteered Orsini, the rest of the leaders agreed. Orsini, whose historical legacy is the most controversial of all the Italian commanders of this era, was a superb young soldier despite being seen by his detractors (and there were plenty of those) as having the air of a brigand. Others thought, more admiringly, that there was something of the eagle about him. Brigand or eagle as he might be, he had earned the trust of his king and of General Grimaldi. Soon he would add a few more monarchs to that list. He was young and lacked experience and familial prestige compared to other potential candidates. Still, he was someone they could all agree on. His family connections to Rome and the Papacy certainly did not hurt his cause for Paris, Vienna, and Warsaw all sought the approval of the Pontiff. Orsini accepted the offer graciously and set to work immediately implementing the Austrian plan. He was also helped by the fact that he commanded the smallest national contingent present (one quarter the size of the Papal army, the next smallest force) and had worked to bridge the divides and reduce the animosity. Using what Ginevra Toscani called his “engaging, graceful manners and good looks” to their best effect, he managed to talk such a stubborn figure as the King of France into accepting the Austrians’ plan in exchange for his troops taking the most prominent roles. Much as Toscani had done at Salzburg before the war, the young Roman sought to smooth over the differences between the allies. He turned out to be as effective at negotiating with his Polish and Austrian colleagues as he was at leading troops. Always willing to share the spotlight and focus it on others (though never to give it up completely), Orsini’s easygoing bravado eased tensions within the Catholic camp. Like his predecessor Grimaldi, he combined the flattery of a courtier with the bravery and toughness of a soldier. By the end of the night, he had, by his tact and persuasiveness, convinced all the squabbling generals and monarchs to act as one.


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Vittorio Orsini

Starting the morning of 2 July, Orsini ordered the whole army to conduct drills and maneuvers, temporarily abandoning the siege lines around the Ottoman capital. On the 3rd, they made ready and departed camp, seeking out the Turks in the hills. The maneuvers of the two opposing armies were conducted in an extraordinarily ordered manner, given their respective sizes. For two days, over 200,000 soldiers sought each other out around the perimeter of one of the world’s greatest cities. Regular contacts occurred between Ottoman and allied patrols, including a particularly famous skirmish between Polish hussars and Ottoman sipahi cavalry, with both forces repeatedly charging, wheeling about, countercharging, etc, for the better part of four hours. The clash was commemorated in verse by the Polish officer and poet Stanisław Herakliusz Lubomirski, who was involved in the fighting.

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The Polish Hussars at Istanbul

The main battle occurred in the valley around the village of Büyükçekmece, within sight of the great Byzantine walls. Since landing on the European side of the Bosporus on the 29th, Hadim and his host had moved inland, reaching the town of Çatalca on 1 July. They meant to take the allies in the rear and cutoff their retreat, thus destroying the enemy threat. The Ottomans had a slight numerical disadvantage, but they had faith in their superior training and unity of command. On the morning of 5 July, the two sides finally stood face to face, fully deployed in line of battle. For the Holy League, Orsini took up position in the center, with the French and his own small force of Italians. The Austrians and the Papal army were on the left while the Poles were on the right. Before the battle, the Austrian general Freystadt and the Polish Grand Hetman Skarbeck met to coordinate the movement of the two wings of the army. Orsini anchored his left in and around a cluster of hamlets where he placed the bulk of his guns. Both artillery and cavalry were, on paper, disadvantages for the Holy League. The numbers favored the Ottomans who boasted more artillery (288 Ottoman batteries to 216 Holy League batteries) and cavalry (19 Ottoman regiments to 9 Holy League regiments). However, the Catholic armies made up for those deficiencies with an overwhelming number of infantrymen. Over 90,000 combined foot soldiers on the side of the Holy League against about 55,000 Ottomans. Hadim Pasha was counting on his advantage in quality of troops overcoming his shortfall in quantity. The Ottoman janissary remained the gold standard of infantrymen around the world. However, centuries after the Ottomans burst into Europe and swept away all enemies with a dazzling combination of discipline and ferocity, Christian powers had finally closed the qualitative gap. Their regiments were manned mostly by simple peasants, but they were dutiful and learned quickly. They were well trained and well led and armed with quality weapons. It was also one of those precious few moments in history when the soldiers of Christendom fought with unity of purpose. This feeling was particularly felt among the Poles. So often, it was the country folk of eastern Europe who suffered the most at the hands of Ottoman and Tatar raids, but it was now time, at long last, for them to deliver the hammer blow.

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Maksym Skarbeck, Grand Hetman of Poland, and the Polish army (left) meet with Johann Freystadt and the Austrians (right) before the Battle of Istanbul

The Ottomans, who before the Great Crusade were more used to facing Christians who broke and ran before them, were now fighting a determined, implacable enemy. The intrepid leadership of Skarbeck and Orsini caused them to continually push forward. The janissaries despised those who lacked the courage to fight like them, something all too often true about Christian soldiers the empire faced in preceding centuries. These men, however, closed with them while driven by seemingly divine anger, shouting “Gesù” and “Maria”, against the Turks’ cries of “Allah, Allah”. The allied infantry lines maintained their fire discipline, and methodically wore down wave after wave of infantry and cavalry charges. In a crucial moment of the battle, the Austrian-led left wing appeared on the verge of collapse, along with most of the allied guns. Faced with a combined force of janissaries and Kazakh horsemen, the artillerymen prepared to make their final, desperate stands. Freystadt, wounded by musket fire and barely able to sit up, attempted to rally the men in his portion of the field. At that moment, a thunderous counter-charge by the Holy League cavalry, led by Orsini himself, smashed into the left side of the Kazakh formation, punching right through them. This gave the artillerymen time to get back on their guns and launch a series of devastating volleys into the janissary lines. The attack was beaten back bloodily, and the allied artillery park did not face a threat again that day. On the right and in the center, Skarbeck and King Louis kept up a steady pressure on the enemy. The French musketeers and Polish hussars proved their mettle once again. The Grand Hetman led his own charge to match Orsini’s, overwhelming Hadim Pasha’s personal retinue and cavalry regiment, nearly capturing the Turkish commander. Still, the Ottomans did not waver until the overwhelming number of casualties finally forced them to give up the field. Hadim Pasha’s daring escape did not buy him much more time, he was killed by French musketeers later in the day trying to rally his men. With his death, any hope of salvaging the collapsing integrity of the army disappeared. The chaotic, desperate flight of the Ottomans only able to occur thanks to a sudden, though no less astounding, collapse of discipline on the Holy League side. When the soon-to-be-victroious men saw their foes take to flight, rather than pursue, most of them fell upon the Turkish baggage train and began looting their camp. Others made their way to the gates of Istanbul. The scale of the carnage was grimly appropriate for the magnificence of the prize. The metropolis nicknamed City of the World's Desire cost dearly for both sides. About 32,000 Ottomans and 21,000 Christians lay dead or wounded by the end of the day; roughly one fourth the numbers that entered the battle. The last, best hope to save Istanbul ended that day on a bloody Thracian field. After 5 July, the Holy League army settled in to finish the siege that would ultimately (but not without a few more years of useless fighting) decide the war.

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The Battle of Istanbul

The defeated Ottoman army made a long, slow, miserable march back to the Black Sea coast, with continuous harassment from Polish and French cavalry along the way. Without any effective leadership, the men were completely vulnerable. Their remaining hopes for salvation ended two days later, however. On 7 July, a flotilla of Italian ships, commanded by Admiral Veneroso, punched through the Bosporus strait under heavy fire from the Ottoman coastal batteries. Four out of the five war galleons trying the passage made it through, including the 76-gun Leone Trionfante and the admiral’s 80-gun flagship, Venere Armata. This had disastrous consequences for the Ottoman army, now trapped on the northeastern corner of the peninsula.

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The Italian fleet forcing the Dardanelles

The one bright spot to come out of the battle for the Ottomans was the successful evacuation of the Sultan and his court during the fighting. All that remained of the imperial treasury along with countless pieces of priceless art and artifacts were also saved. The heirlooms of the House of Osman were carefully, painstakingly evacuated under the watchful eye of the court eunuchs. As he watched the battle unfold from the battlements of his capital, Selim I finally gave up his stubborn refusal to abandon his beloved hometown. Protected by the heavy guns of the coastal forts, the imperial cortege made an unceremonious crossing of the Bosporus. The journey was not even free of petty humiliations. While disembarking from a boat on the Anatolian side, Grand Vizier Gazi Pasha, “every day more burdened by the weight of responsibility” (in the words of the Republic of Genoa’s ambassador), tripped and fell into the water, thus forcing him to make the rest of the journey in wet, cold clothing.

Things were worse inside the city. Seeing their last hope for relief smashed before their eyes, the city’s residents became panicked. The sultan and court were evacuated discreetly, but when the news eventually did break (once the escapees were safely on the other side of the water), it triggered pandemonium. “Families were offering all their treasures to anyone who would offer a ride across the water,” reported the Genovese merchant Siriano Usodimare, one of the last people to get out as the city fell, “we Genovesi ferried across as many wretches as we could safely fit in our boats, but for every one we took, another ten were left pleading on the shoreline.” Some attempted to escape by climbing over the walls, in most cases only to killed, captured, or worse by the waiting enemy soldiers outside. It remains unknown why the Gate of the Spring was opened in the small hours of 6 July. It may have been an escape attempt by city residents gone wrong. It may have been a case of the Holy League successfully capturing it by guile. Whatever the reason, the opening of that gate spelled the final doom for the city. The first Christian soldiers to set foot in the capital of their greatest foe did so, apparently, in a state of bafflement. Surely, they must have thought, it could not be this easy. The flow began as a trickle. Small bands of men simply wandered into the gate and started walking around. There was no effort made to stop them. By morning, the trickle had turned into a flood and when the other gates were opened it was the end. By late morning the city was being overrun by rapacious, bloodthirsty soldiers. King Louis, Orsini, Skarbeck, and the rest of the senior command did not learn of what was happening inside the walls until large swaths of the city were already being looted. The Catholic conquest of Istanbul, imagined by so many as a surely glorious moment, had instead turned into an absurdity.


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Istanbul falls to the Holy League.

Louis XX granted the Holy League soldiers three days to plunder the city, as he had promised them and in accordance with custom. This unleashed a wave of bloodshed across Istanbul, as people were beaten, raped, robbed, and murdered in the streets. Despite an order prohibiting the entry of occupied residences, homes were regularly invaded and pillaged. By the time any “rules” were issued governing conduct during the sack, the men had already been in the city for hours, doing whatever they pleased. Soldiers fought over the possession of the spoils of war. The women of Istanbul suffered from rape at the hands of allied forces, “with no regard for age or innocence,” in the words of Lubomirski, who was present. “All through the day,” lamented the Polish poet and cavalry officer, “the Christians made a great slaughter of Turks throughout the city.” The widespread persecution of the city’s civilians included an estimated 30,000 being captured and sold into slavery. According to multiple reports, most of the elderly, infirm, wounded, and sick who were taking refuge inside the mosques were killed. The Ottomans, when they entered the city victoriously 220 years earlier, had brought a similar fate to the Byzantine inhabitants. Now, the once invincible Turks were suffering the same depredations they were once used to visiting upon their enemies. Though the sultans would eventually regain possession of the great city at the end of the crusade, the disastrous effects of the devastation were felt for generations.

On the other side, the previously flagging morale of the men of the Holy League was suddenly rejuvenated. For the regular fighting man, the loot he could take in Istanbul dwarfed that of any of his previous conquests, regardless of where in Europe he hailed from. It is difficult to overestimate the transfer of wealth from east to west that occurred during the sack. The “official” looting, done on orders of a monarch (mostly Louis XX), was not the only reason for this war-driven economic event. The wealth possessed in Istanbul put to shame even the most splendid European cities. For a peasant soldier, one or two valuable trinkets, picked up in the home of a wealthy Ottoman family, could mean life-changing money back home. For Italy, her prestige was enhanced, even with her limited troop numbers, by the dazzling victory which the thirty-five-year-old Orsini secured over the Ottomans. It was the future Minister of War’s brilliant boldness which allowed him to defeat the Turkish assault on the left, leading the charge himself. More than any other encounter, the Battle of Istanbul brought about the end of any remaining sense of Ottoman invincibility. Once again, bells tolled in jubilation across Christendom: in their eyes, the hated Turk was finally receiving the vengeance he deserved.


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The Hagia Sophia before it was pillaged by the Holy League armies

In the midst of the sack, Orsini managed to organize a large enough force to go finish the job they had started the previous week. On 12 July 1673, the Holy League troops attacked the encampment of the same Ottoman army they had just vanquished. Leaderless, stranded, beaten, and demoralized, nearly all discipline and morale among the Turks collapsed. The Christians poured into the camp, meeting almost zero resistance. For the whole afternoon, the massacre continued with no respite. All janissaries were executed on the spot along with any horsemen from the steppes. This latter bunch was particularly hated and feared by the Poles, who relished the chance at revenge for years of raids across the frontier. All officers were rounded up and beheaded on the shoreline, so that the dark waters of the Black Sea turned red with their blood. They were stripped naked beforehand, so that their finely made clothes could be repossessed by the victors rather than be ruined by sea water. The remaining men were killed or spared based on the whim of whatever allied soldiers happened to find them. Some, particularly Christians from the Balkans, were allowed to simply walk away as long as they abandoned their weapons. Muslim soldiers who survived the massacre and taken into captivity, were loaded on ships and ferried across the Black Sea to be sold to the agents of another boy sultan: Adud I of Tabarestan (both Sultan Abud and his counterpart in Yemen, Sultan ‘Abd al-Wahhab I, profited handsomely from their more powerful rival’s travails). In one afternoon, the cream of the Ottoman military machine, the same one that had so terrorized Europe for a quarter millennium, was wiped away. In explaining the slaughter to his sovereign and to the Pope, Orsini stated: “In a war, there are many moments for compassion and tender action. There are many moments for ruthless action. Or what is often called ruthless, what may in many circumstances be only clarity: seeing clearly what there is to be done and doing it directly, quickly, aware, looking at it.” From a purely military perspective, the Battle of Istanbul and its aftermath were the most catastrophic disaster for Turkish arms since their defeat at the hands of the Timurids at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. Timur’s victory had crippled the Ottoman Empire for a generation; Orsini’s victory was set to do the same.

By 14 July, back in Istanbul, King Louis, Maksym Skarbeck, and the other Catholic commanders rode through a city largely deserted and half in ruins. Mosques had been desecrated and stripped, houses were no longer habitable, and stores and shops were emptied. Louis eagerly plundered the Hagia Sophia. Among other treasures, the French monarch took for himself: two huge marble lustration urns from the Hellenistic period carved from single blocks of marble (they had been brought to Istanbul from Pergamon during the reign of Sultan Osman II); the loggia of the empress, the matroneum (women's gallery) from where the empress and the court-ladies would watch the proceedings down below; all four of the minarets, including all their ornaments and details. He stole treasures from the Topkapı Palace as well, including the Tughra of Mehmed the Conqueror, which currently adorns the Pont Royal in Paris but was once safely ensconced on the Topkapı’s Gate of Salutation. The king returned to France and transformed a hunting lodge at Versailles into the most magnificent palace in Europe with these gorgeous artifacts used to awe guests both simple and grand. At the time, of course, this was all considered acceptable and just. The Ottomans had never failed to perpetrate their share of looting when they sacked great Christian cities. This was, in the eyes of most of the conquering soldiers, a fair comeuppance. Not everyone was happy with what happened, however. The Florentine soldier, poet, and naturalist, Archimede Guicciardini, moved to tears by the devastation, asked in despair: “how can such a city be given over to plunder and destruction?” Looting was carried out by the Holy League soldiers on a massive scale. The wealthiest, most magnificent city in the world was picked over and left destitute.


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Maksym Skarbeck and Louis XX dispatching the “Message of Victory” to Pope Innocent XII

By September, the Black Sea had become a Holy League-controlled lake, patrolled by the Italian fleet under the command of Admiral Lodovico Castagna (Veneroso returned to Italy to oversee the wider war effort after successfully forcing the straits). They immediately set about hunting Ottoman war ships, raiding ports, and blockading trade. On the 21st, they smashed the Ottoman Black Sea fleet as they attempted to flee back west through the Sea of Marmara. Led by the experienced Ottoman commander, Hasan Sokullu, the fleet attempted to slip through the blockade and through the straits back into the Mediterranean. However, the Italians were ready for this desperate gambit and, between their ships and the shore batteries (now in allied hands), they shredded the Turks. Sokullu lost a galleon, two frigates, and two galleys before turning tail and fleeing for the safety of Crimea’s many harbors.

After they finished looting Istanbul, the allies did not tarry much longer. They immediately set about invading Anatolia. By the end of October, the Austrians, with Orsini’s Italian contingent in tow, captured Izmiri, establishing the first allied beach head on that side of the sea. As the year turned, more fortresses and cities fell into Christian hands. France took Izmit, just across the Dardanelles from Istanbul, on 23 March 1674. From there, the roads into the vast Asian portion of the empire were wide open.


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Disposition of forces in Anatolia, September 1673.

In the Levant, the Armata di Gerusalemme notched another impressive victory on 27 August at Haleb. The opposing armies were roughly even in numbers, with estimates at around 35,000 men each, but the Italians controlled the pace of the battle from the beginning and the outcome was never in doubt. In North Africa, Grimaldi’s campaign was going fantastically. His men took Benghazi on 23 October 1673 after an 81-day siege. Their mission was to cross North Africa, smash the Sultanate of Tunis, destroy the Barbary Pirates in their home ports, and rescue Christian captives. On 7 November, a separate element from his army took Aswan, the southernmost Tunisian fort along the Nile. In another display of his diplomatic acumen, Grimaldi had left orders with his corps commander responsible for the siege, Vivaldo Farnese, to proceed even further south. Farnese, the charismatic son of the Duke of Parma (and a future duke himself), had orders to make contact with officials from Alodia, a Christian kingdom that was rumored to rule over, among other places, the confluence of the White and Blue Niles. It was also possible that their king could very well be Prester John, the legendary ruler who was said to be monarch of a Christian nation lost amid pagans and Muslims in the Orient. Farnese did end up meeting with representatives of King Soukousapa Lugor Hedareb, including the army reformer Mouna Nuer. The 45-year-old commander who hailed from the Butana, near the site of the ancient city of Meroë, invited the Italians to spend time among his men on the arid plains of the Sudan. For two months, Farnese and his troop lived with the Alodians and learned their culture and customs. The Italian officer penned a detailed report and dispatched it back to Italy to Ginevra Toscani at the War Ministry, describing the Alodians as “self-disciplined and tough” and stating that “as Christians they make natural allies, and their position along the Nile makes them a threat to the enemy’s rear.” He concluded, unfortunately, that Soukousapa Lugor was not, in fact, Prester John. Still, given the high praise, Florence took notice, planting the seeds of a future alliance.

The leadership in Italy did not only busy themselves reading reports from far off lands. The business of managing a wartime kingdom was never quiet. Just two years removed from the so-called “Piracy Scandal”, the Queen Regent had not forgotten the sting from that political battle. The merchant companies, particularly those of the Società della Guinea, were smarting over the Sugar Tariff that taxed their profits from the Indies. There remained plenty of animosity on both sides and a great deal of unhappiness spread among the merchants as a result. By 1674, some particularly disgruntled groups began threatening to sabotage the war effort if the taxes were not rescinded. Intentional work slowdowns at several key ports forced Maria Maddalena’s hand. While she did not rescind the tax on sugar, she ordered Cornaro to slash the budget for customs enforcement, turning a blind eye to those skimming off the top. Still, in the long run, the merchants’ victory was ineffective. The queen’s beneficent distribution of the profits from the tariff had earned widespread political popularity, and the idea of letting the already handsomely rewarded merchants get fatter at the rest of the population’s expense was unpopular with most Italians, for obvious reasons. To fight back, Maria Maddalena immediately moved to relax mercantilist restrictions imposed by the Medici government, expanding the quotas of goods that could be bought and sold by foreign firms. In a particularly petty strike aimed at the Società della Guinea, the queen awarded extra trade privilege to their primary global rival: the Amsterdam-based V.O.C. in the Società’s own home ports. While the slave trading firm and the Caribbean planter families also accused the queen of helping foment a peasant and slave revolt on the island of San Vincenzo in May of 1674, there is nothing more than circumstantial evidence to implicate Maria Maddalena in such a fantastical plot. The San Vincenzo revolt was betrayed by someone on the inside who revealed the plot to the authorities and brutally crushed. Still, some planters demanded compensation from the crown.

Maria Maddalena’s entire childhood and upbringing had prepared her for these moments. As a young Habsburg princess, she had learned from her grandfather, the Archduke of Austria, and she understood the importance of symbolism and ceremony. The queen maintained a grueling schedule that included, on a near daily basis: mass for several hours in the morning at various churches; distribution of alms to the poor following church; reading and responding to correspondence; visiting wounded veterans; reviewing and signing official policy documents; praying some more in the Magi Chapel of the Palazzo Medici; hosting dinners for dignitaries, courtiers, etc; and, finally, confession and then bed. She carried on the tradition of her predecessors and donned only drab-colored wool or linen dresses. She wore no jewelry save for her crown: a magnificent golden tiara with a Habsburg eagle embracing a fleur-de-lis with its wings. That extravagance, as she explained to Elena Cornaro Piscopia, was allowed because, “the crown represents the state.” The poet Quintiliano Ongaro described her as, “splendid in her modesty.” The queen’s piety, whether real, affected, or somewhere in between, granted her political legitimacy and power. She used that power, guided by Cornaro and Toscani, to great effect, keeping the peace within the realm while also striking preemptively at potential enemies. While Francesco II was certainly a highly skilled military commander, he was also blessed to have an effective wartime queen to act as his regent.

Maria Maddalena’s position demanded that she be the steadying force of the court. As more and more husbands, fathers, sons, brothers, lovers, and friends returned crippled or disfigured or not at all, she remained resolute, consoling widows, arranging for the education of surviving children, and never letting her own worries come to the surface. That her own husband was on the campaign made her relatable to even common-born women she met in the streets or in the churches. She shared their worries, their fears, their many sleepless nights. Leaving aside love and sentimentality, most women of the age were still dependent on their husband for their social and economic positions. The loss of a spouse could be financially and socially devastating. There were avenues for relief from the state for war widows, but these were long, complex, and often required the bribing of officials. For many, the choice between a brothel, a convent, or begging in the street were all too real and present. The queen certainly did not face consequences near as dire, but her position was also made possible by her husband. The death of Francesco II overseas could have put her in grave danger. She had made many powerful, rich enemies during the war years. A popular pamphlet circulating at the time in Florence, Milan, and other major Italian cities, depicted a story of the Biblical Mary Magdalene (the queen’s enemies never failed to make note of the name) being forced back into prostitution for being a false penitent and lying to Jesus. In a rare public relations blunder, the queen had them declared heretical by Cardinal Francesco Nerli, the Archbishop of Florence, which only served to make them even more popular. “Such brazenness,” the queen commented to her Dama di Compagnia, the prolific diarist Annabella Gondi, “is a prelude to insurrection.” Without her husband and, by extension, the army guaranteeing her power, she faced serious risks. Had the king died, her young son would have become the monarch with a long regency ahead of him. It was very possible she could be excluded from a regency council entirely and perhaps even forced into a convent (she certainly would not be the first queen to suffer that fate). Thus, the court of public relations became the domestic battleground, and the queen’s public persona became her strongest armor. The image of Maria Maddalena as the pious, dutiful spouse, tending to her husband’s obligations while he was off at war, sharing in the sacrifices of the kingdom (whether this was all genuine or the product of a highly advanced Medici public relations offensive, was debated even at the time), gave the Queen Regent an unassailable moral authority and the ability to fend off all domestic enemies.

With the Levant pacified and Grimaldi rampaging across North Africa (the Italians took Tripoli on 5 January 1674), Francesco turned his attention north to Anatolia. As the bulk of the Holy League armies advanced from the west, the Italian king saw an opportunity to wipe out what remained of the enemy field armies. On 3 March 1674, Francesco II notched one of his more impressive victories to date. He and his 39,000 veteran soldiers outfought and defeated a 57,000 strong Ottoman army under the command of Hüseyin Alemdar (recalled from his temporary exile) at Marash. The King of Italy was becoming a true master of the battlefield. In this encounter, he outmaneuvered his beleaguered adversary and used the relative inexperience of the new Turkish levies against them. By this point, the Armata di Gerusalemme had developed into a highly disciplined, well organized machine, hardened by years of campaigning and wielded to deadly effectiveness by the king. Using the high ground around the town of Marash, the king pounded the enemy forces with artillery before unleashing his cavalry to wreak havoc in the enemy rear. Alemdar, who had been charged with building and training a new army to make a final pushback against the Holy League failed once again. The new janissary corps, unworthy of the illustrious name, were hastily assembled and trained and were in all ways inferior to their predecessors. The Albanian general, who had thus far escaped the sultan’s displeasure, was once again recalled to the capital, now temporarily in Baghdad, to await execution. The man who built his reputation conquering chunks of Persia now seemed destined to be remembered as a loser. Selim I, who was fond of Alemdar, got cold feet and deferred the punishment indefinitely. The once proud commander was given the chance to add one more memorable defeat to his record.

In the spring, with Anatolia firmly under the control of the Holy League, Archduke Franz I launched perhaps the most daring and ambitious offensive of the war. The new Austrian Archduke, crowned a year earlier on 1 April 1673 following the death of his grandfather, was eager to get in on the conquering. It was a fittingly dramatic start for the career of the teenaged monarch. The magnanimous, democratizing version of Franz, remembered by later generations of Viennese school children as “The Father of Austrian Liberty,” was still a wide-eyed boy in search of adventure at the time of the Great Crusade. His brother-in-law had conquered Jerusalem, his chief rival had taken Istanbul, and so the Habsburgs could not miss out on a chance to take a great Muslim city. Thus, at the tender age of sixteen, he launched headfirst into Mesopotamia in the hopes of taking Baghdad and capturing the Ottoman Sultan. Franz’s military adventure was not completely fanciful, however, it was born of military and political necessity.

Despite the seemingly endless string of Ottoman defeats, there was no sign of Selim I and his inner circle quitting the fight. The court was not doing badly in Baghdad, the ancient seat of the Abbasid Caliphs. The metropolis, with a population estimated at about 185,000, remained a perfectly suitable capital, still putting all but the most splendid European cities to shame, even in its diminished state. The Sultan, coming of age amidst the greatest period of dynastic strife in nearly three centuries, was unwilling to give in. He had watched his armies destroyed in the field and been forced to flee his capital. The palace in which he was born and the one from which he had ruled, were being used as barracks for Christian soldiers. Worst of all, the enemy sought to make this a permanent state of affairs. There were many things that the Ottoman sultan could be forced to tolerate, but the idea of giving Istanbul back to the Christians, was inconceivable. “The Emperor means to fight to the last man rather than give up Istanbul in a treaty,” wrote the Genovese Republic’s ambassador, Theodoros Sungur, who had accompanied the court to Baghdad. This was more than a whimsical hope. No matter how many losses the Ottomans suffered on the battlefield, the vastness of the empire remained a formidable defense in its own right. The Iranian plateau and the sultan’s Caucasian lands added significant strategic depth. The court could, in theory, fall back until the allied supply lines were stretched well past their breaking points. The Christian commanders had realized this as well, thus prompting Franz’s effort to capture the sultan and force him to agree to the peace personally. The Holy League remained an implacable foe and in addition to his own Austrian forces, the Archduke brought along Vittorio Orsini and his plucky band of Italians for the mission.

Another “Crusader King” was anointed on 1 May 1674. King Jan IV Poniatowski of Poland had been the only sovereign of the Holy League states aside from the Pope not to lead his troops in the field, leaving that honor to the Grand Hetman. However, he had sent his grandson and heir, Prince Henryk to lead a Polish contingent. When Jan died, the Sejm quickly convened and elected Henryk king by a large majority. The new ruler learned the news while leading his troops in the field, as they mopped-up Ottoman resistance in Anatolia. Francesco, who was 240 kilometers to the southwest besieging Diyarbakır, rode north to meet the new king and present him with gifts, including a shard from the True Cross from Jerusalem, a gift for the Wawel Cathedral in Kraków. The three-day visit was by all accounts, both Italian and Polish, a happy, brotherly affair. The officers of the two armies were in good spirits. It is curious to wonder how many of those present could guess that within a few years they would be opposing each other on the battlefield.

By late May, Archduke Franz’s army was closing in on Baghdad. The lightning advance from the Taurus Mountains, through Mosul, Kirkuk, and Tikrit, and then down the Tigris caught the Ottomans off-guard. Franz I and Orsini pushed their army to its limit but were able to achieve an element of surprise. With only Hüseyin Alemdar and the remnants of the army defeated by Francesco II at Marash left to defend the emperor, the heroic yet woebegone Albanian commander suited up for one final fight.


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The two sides met on 28 May: 57,000 Austrians against 49,000 Ottomans. Archduke Franz left the command to more experienced officers, and gave overall tactical control to Orsini, a decision the Italian would reward. The allies did not wilt in the blistering Mesopotamian heat, with midday temperatures around 45 degrees Celsius. Instead, it was the Ottoman army that looked sluggish and unfit for the battle. The allies deployed to the northwest of the city, oriented on an axis from northeast to southwest. The left wing, consisting of about half the artillery defended by Papal infantry. The bulk of the army was in the center, manned entirely by Austrians, and backed up by a hefty reserve. Orsini took the main body of cavalry on the right wing along with a smattering of infantry, mostly his own Italians. The Roman commander harassed the Ottomans incessantly as they attempted to deploy their own battle lines. When an advancing corps of janissaries appeared poised to punch into the center of the Austrian line, Orsini countered with a thunderous charge that scattered the Albanian and Circassian infantry guarding the Turks’ left and then plunged into the Ottoman formation. The Holy League cavalry broke the janissary assault and drove them back. The infantry barely threatened again the rest of the day. Using his customary caution, Alemdar was able to avoid catastrophe and fight his youthful opponent to a near draw. The situation on the ground by evening was not looking good for the Ottoman defenders. The general received word that the Sultan was safely out of Baghdad and that Selim had authorized Alemdar to withdraw “if needed to save the army.” There was precious little left for the young emperor to hold on to, but preserving his one remaining functional field army appeared more prudent than sacrificing it for the sake of glory. Alemdar and his men lived to fight another day. Still, the bitterness of moral victories was growing intolerable. Yet another great city was being left to the mercy of the Frankish barbarians. For Franz, the achievement of glory as a crusader must have added to the already sweet taste of a Habsburg victory over a hated dynastic opponent. Though he failed to capture Selim, Franz could claim a major prestige victory in the Habsburg-Osmanoğlu rivalry.

Following the defeat at Baghdad, Selim I and his court fled to yet another temporary capital for their final sojourn of the war. They went even deeper into the interior, re-establishing themselves at Tabriz in Azerbaijan, a heavily fortified center of trade. While the empire was being overrun in the west, the rich trade routes that still flowed along the ancient Silk Road kept Tabriz and the Ottoman dominions on the Iranian Plateau well fed. As the court stayed in Persia, so grew the influence of Persian advisors and officials, starting a trend that would have lasting impacts on Ottoman culture and government. Still, the war fatigue was setting in heavily. A series of rebellions cropped up around Anatolia, but contrary to the sultan’s wishes, they were not nationalistic risings against foreign occupiers, but discontented subjects fighting against all of the authorities that had failed them, Muslim and Christian. The most notable occurred in the late summer to early fall of 1674. Led by the charismatic Sait Damad, they attacked allied supply convoys and Ottoman officials until they were crushed by the French.


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The Court of Selim I at Tabriz, painted in a Persianate style, a trend that would continue in the years after the crusade

The old Abbasid capital, abandoned by the sultan, did not last long. At the start of July, Archduke Franz authorized Orsini to begin negotiations with the commander of Baghdad’s garrison: Abdur Raheem al-Bashir. Bashir agree to surrender the city under a guarantee of safe passage and a promise to prohibit looting. The Italian countered that to prevent looting, the city leaders had to offer up payment. On 9 July, the Baghdad garrison opened the gates, and the city’s leading nobles and merchants (or those that had remained, at any rate) presented the triumphant Christian army with a pile of treasure and gold coins that satisfied the lust for loot of the invaders. True to their word, Franz and Orsini kept the army in good order, and Baghdad, like Cairo, was spared the fate of Jerusalem, Istanbul, Tunis, and the other great Islamic metropoles devastated by the crusaders. Franz I, at age 16, had a conquest to rival those of his fellow Catholic monarchs, Louis and Francesco.

To the west, along the Nile, a new sort of Italian operation was developing. As part of Vivaldo Farnese’s efforts to develop a relationship with the Kingdom of Alodia he had, largely on his own accord, enlisted his 10,000 strong Italian army to fight rebels for their monarch. The Christian kingdom, along with its neighbor and rival, the Sultanate of Kaffa, was plagued at the time by a series of disparate yet, resilient rebellions. Both states were fighting reactionary rebels who opposed modernization efforts by their respective governments and instead wanted to keep the traditional political and social relations in place. Furthermore, a Sunni fundamentalist revival was sweeping the Sahel during the 1670s-80s that treated the Kaffa sultans as traitors to their faith and the Alodian kings, more simply, as mortal enemies. Within this complex, shifting, and volatile milieu, the Italians set about further making a mess of things. Farnese was a good man to do outreach to a potential new ally, but his eagerness to please got him into trouble. King Soukousapa Lugor and Mouna Nuer convinced the Parmesan commander to do their dirty work for them. Farnese took to the task enthusiastically, and in doing so brought about a catastrophe. He broke his army into two columns of roughly 5,000 men each, one to advance along a northern axis and the other along a southern one, and marched into Kaffa to deal with the rebels. The northern column, commanded by Captain Giuseppe Giudice, was to meet with disaster. Born near Varese in Lombardy, Giudice had gained some fame as a businessman in the settlement of Nuova Arca in the Italian New World colonies before returning to Italy ahead of the Great Crusade. He was charismatic and well-liked by his troops, but inexperienced as a commander. The two columns departed the small town of Berber, along the Nile, with a plan to follow the old caravan routes to Suakin on the Red Sea, all the while patrolling for, and engaging, rebel forces where possible. Farnese and Giudice badly underestimated their opponents and got themselves spaced too far apart over the course of their march. This was largely Farnese’s fault, as he believed the Atbara River, which he chose to follow, ran in a straight line west-to-east, instead of leading him to the southeast as he followed the reverse course of the river upstream. Thus, when Giudice’s column came under attack, instead of being less than a day’s ride away, the other half of the force was more than 125 kilometers further south.


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East Africa in the 1670s

On 23 June 1674, Giudice and his 5,000 strong column were hit by a rebel army estimated at 20,000 strong. It was commanded by the rebel leader Fásil Ezana and made up mostly of Beja warriors. Ezana was a Suakin-born merchant descended from the Hadendowa clan of the Beja. He became a zealous religious scholar and proto-nationalistic figure who returned to his ancestral lands sometime around 1670 to raise the tribe against the non-believers in command of Kaffa’s monarchy. Four years later, he had assembled a formidable band. His tribesmen, dismissed by the Italians as a barbarian rabble, had an ancient history and had inhabited the rough gorges and plateaus and valleys of the Red Sea hills for over forty centuries. Called Blemmyes by the Romans and Bukas by the Egyptians in antiquity, they claimed descent from Ham, son of Noah. No power had ever controlled them, and they continued to vex the centralization efforts of both King Soukousapa Lugor of Alodia and Sultan Gîyôrgôs I of Keffe. They spoke Tu-Bedawi, a Cushitic language related to Somali, instead of Arabic. Their relationship to Islam was tenuous at best, and they rarely prayed, fasted during Ramadan, or performed the hajj (despite the Holy Cities of Arabia being just a short way across the Red Sea). What outsiders remembered most in their accounts about the Beja was their distinctive hairstyle. Beja warriors considered it a disgrace to cut their hair and instead let it grow in great plumes and tails, greased with mutton fat. These highly disciplined and mobile fighters were perhaps the most formidable warriors in the Sudan. They carried spears, but their preferred weapon was a broad-sword with a straight, double-edged blade and a cross-hilt. They did not carry firearms and had no interest in them. Their tactics, even against gunpowder armies, remained largely the same. They approached using cover and concealment and then charged with tremendous velocity. They surrounded and overwhelmed the Italians and slaughtered them. Isolated in small pockets of infantry, the Europeans were unable to deliver the sort of disciplined and regular volleys necessary to fight off an enemy such as the Beja. Instead, these sword-wielding fighters were able to get in close and wreak havoc. Panicked soldiers wheeled and fired wildly into the melee, killing their own comrades as well as the enemy. The formations fractured into disorganized knots of men who were cut to pieces. “The wildest confusion gripped the men,” said Pippo Pontillo, Giudice’s cook and one of the only survivors, “no proper formation could be preserved among them…they fought in detached groups and were picked off in turn.” Pontillo lived despite being shot (by one of his fellow Italians) and slashed with a sword (by a Beja). He and a handful of others were rescued by soldiers of the pro-royalist Lord-Mayor Gabriel of Atmara. Giudice and most of the rest of his men were slain, resulting in one of the most humiliating defeats in recent Italian history. The commander’s head, and those of his top officers, were cut off and brought back for display in the Beja’s armed camp. Even Farnese’s own victory over a separate group of rebels (this group of a more Islamic, fundamentalist tendency) led by Timotheos Keira was unable to wipe away the shame. Farnese was immediately recalled to Alexandria and from there shipped back to Italy in disgrace. Though he was eventually rehabilitated (rising to become Duke of Parma a few years later following his father’s death likely factored in), the defeat to the Beja put a dark stain on what was otherwise a brilliant piece of forward-thinking military diplomacy by the scion of the noble house of Parma. This would not be the last time the Beja frustrated grand Medici plans in the Sudan.

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The great Beja military leader, Fásil Ezana

To replace Farnese, Grimaldi summoned his old protégé: Orsini. Fresh off his victory alongside Archduke Franz at Baghdad, the young hero would be given one more battle honor to add to the splendid war legacy he was building on the Great Crusade. While it must have added insult to injury for Vivaldo Farnese (and his kinsmen as well, to be sure) to be replaced in the field by a man hailing from a noble house that was challenging his own for power and influence back in Italy, it certainly delighted the Pope. It took until early 1675, but after whipping Farnese’s old column into better fighting shape, Orsini got revenge for the previous Italian disaster. On 8 January, at the Battle of Sahra an Nübyah, Orsini and 5,000 Italians defeated Fásil Ezana and his Beja army. Outnumbered approximately four to one, the Italians’ superior firepower and rigid discipline won the day on this occasion, albeit at a surprisingly high cost. This time, the Italian formations held under the pressure of the enemy’s charges, winning a number of brutal hand to hand contests and driving back their foes. Orsini lost more than 3,000 men in the fighting, and nearly suffered the same fate as Giudice. Only a near suicidal charge by the Italian cavalry (only 300 cavalrymen survived out of the original 2,000 to start the battle) saved the infantry from being overwhelmed by a final, well-executed Beja charge. Even worse, Orsini learned exactly the wrong lesson from the battle. Instead of acknowledging the difficulty of attacking such a numerically superior foe, he came to believe that with enough discipline and will, his troops could overcome any opponent, no matter their numbers. This hard earned yet misguided confidence set the stage for the catastrophic end of the Roman’s scintillating career. In the moment, however, Orsini remained a reasonable enough commander to understand strategic reality. After the bloodletting at Sahra an Nübyah, he realized the mission in the Sahel was over. With less than 1,500 men left, there was no hope to continue the fighting. The Armata del Nilo turned north and made a slow, steady retreat to Cairo. The battle had been a tactical victory for the Italians, but a strategic victory for the Beja. For the time being, Italy was forced to put aside her interest in the upper reaches of the Nile. However, the seeds planted by Farnese’s diplomatic overtures would mature in the years to come.

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Vittorio Orsini and the Italians won a pyrrhic victory at Sahra an Nübyah

Things were going more smoothly in North Africa. On 14 July 1674, Grimaldi and the Armata d’Egitto took Kef, the last major fortification on the road to Tunis. The mostly cautious Tunisians were forced into the field, yet the wily old Italian general defeated them piecemeal. On 20 September the Italians defeated an army commanded by Rasim Bassir at Sfax and then less than a month later smashed the army of Sultan Muhammad V at Annaba. By the end of the month, the capital was under siege. Bizerte fell to an Italian detachment on 16 November and by the start of the new year, even Tunis was ready to surrender. Surrounded on land and blockaded by sea, the city was quickly running out of supplies. Morale was low among the population. A group of citizens rebelled and threw open the gates on the city’s south side to let in the Italians during the early morning hours of 7 February 1675. This turned out to be an awful mistake. The besiegers poured in and, thinking that the city had been taken by storm, began the customary period of pillaging brought about by such a fall. The usual scenes of horror ensued. The captains and officers of any ships flying Tunisian or Ottoman colors were crucified along the strand or else beaten to death by the newly freed galley slaves who so recently manned their oars. As the Italians had done at all the Barbary Pirates’ strongholds, enslaved Christians in the galley crews were instantly freed, while free Muslims in the crew were enslaved to be sold off to Caribbean planters. Yet another great Islamic city suffered devastation and depredation at the hands of the Christian crusaders.

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Bombardment of Tunis by the Italian navy

The fall of Tunis marked the end of the war for Carlo Grimaldi and the Armata d’Egitto. Muhammad V, hiding out in the Kingdom of Touggourt, returned to his devastated capital to sign a humiliating separate peace. He abandoned his cousin in exchange for getting the invaders out of his shattered realm sooner. Tunis was forced to give up all her Egyptian possessions to Italy, including the provinces of Alexandria, Cairo, Faiyum, Rosetta, and Minya. The Nile Delta was now a Medici possession. The Duke of Urbino heaped even more victories and glory onto an already formidable reputation. He had certainly lived up to the lofty standards set out by his Grimaldi ancestors and easily takes a place among the long list of Florentine/Tuscan/Italian military commanders who advanced the kingdom’s cause. He was lucky as well to lead a highly motivated army whose men loved their commander and were willing to be pushed to their breaking point and beyond. The achievements of these soldiers were spectacular. They had fought in two separate theaters of the war, marched over 4,200 kilometers (not counting a crossing of the Mediterranean by sea), and conquered some of the world’s most ancient and spectacular cities. Most importantly, they had delivered swift and severe justice against the Barbary Pirates. The army’s brutality (particularly at Benghazi and Tunis), while horrific, broke the back of corsair power. Even when they returned to the seas in sizable numbers, the pirates never regained their previous strength. The coasts of Calabria, Sicily, Malta, Sardinia, Corsica, Cyprus, and myriad other places along Europe’s Mediterranean riviera were finally free from the crippling fear of seaborne raiders. The army had achieved their mission in definitive fashion.

Elsewhere, the war dragged on through yet another miserable, brutal year. By this point, a sort of futile, demoralizing stability was achieved that helped nobody. The Ottomans were thoroughly beaten in the west and there was no realistic path to expelling the invaders. The Sultanate of Tunis was a wreck, its armies and fleets entirely wiped out. Yet even the most ambitious Holy League commanders had come to the realization that a total conquest of the Ottoman Empire was equally impossible. The idea of the Catholic states gearing up for yet another major push, this time across the rugged and vast Iranian Plateau, was far-fetched even for those like Maksym Skarbeck who gladly spent most of their lives on campaign.

A few more largely futile, yet spectacularly destructive battles took place in 1675, though they did little to change the larger outcome or course of the war. In the dead of winter, in February, Louis XX and Francesco II coordinated an attack on an Ottoman army at Kirkuk. The local Kurds, already endowed with a healthy rebellious streak in peaceful times, were doubly motivated by the fact that Ottoman authority in their region was weak as a result of the war. It was thus likely a mistake by the Ottomans to make winter quarters so close to the center of Kurdish power, where the inevitable clashes between soldiers and civilians over scarce wintertime resources only inflamed the locals’ hostility. The Kurds sent envoys to both the Italians and French, encamped at Sinjar (245 kilometers to the northwest) and Urmia (240 kilometers to the north), respectively. Louis and Francesco jumped at the opportunity to catch the enemy off guard and managed to successfully coordinate and time their winter attack. The armies were close in numbers, but morale, armaments, and supplies favored the Holy League. The addition of several thousand Kurdish warriors and their intimate knowledge of the terrain helped their cause as well. The results showed on the field on 21 February 1675, with the Ottomans losing over 25,000 men at the cost of about 5,000 Italians, Frenchmen, and Kurds. The Battle of Kirkuk would be the final engagement for the kings of Italy and France and their armies. The men all celebrated their victory as their leaders determined how to proceed.

Louis and Francesco decided to ride south with several thousand cavalry to meet with Archduke Franz, comfortably ensconced along the Persian Gulf coast at Basra. Displaying the humanist qualities that would later make him such a renowned figure in European intellectual life, Franz immersed himself in the local Arab culture. He met with Islamic scholars, learned Arabic, and hired Shiite guards to protect the Imam Ali Shrine. He met with Zaidoon al-Ṣābi', High Priest of the Mandaeans: likely the first Christians to practice baptism and the last surviving Gnostics from antiquity. Less innocent was the young Habsburg’s penchant for the local women, a clear break from the longstanding Habsburg tradition of sexual asceticism and prudishness. Orsini, no stranger to romantic trysts while on campaign, observed that, “the Archduke would have made a fine sultan, surrounded as he always is by so many beautiful ladies.” The French and Italian monarchs arrived there on 16 March and, after exchanging pleasantries, the three kings sat down along with Cardinal Priuli to craft a statement (as the “Papal Legate for the Crusade in the Holy Land”, Priuli had full authority to represent His Holiness in peace negotiations). They extended an invitation to the Ottomans to meet and negotiate an end to the war. Louis dropped his demand to retain Istanbul and Franz offered to declare Basra a “Free City,” thus making it symbolically neutral for the peace talks instead of being in Holy League-occupied territory. Notably excluded were the Poles, who did not have the good luck of their monarch being present in Mesopotamia. King Henryk II was still mopping up Ottoman elements in Anatolia alongside Maksym Skarbeck and a French contingent under Simon de Saint Germain.


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Basra in 1673

When the invitation reached Tabriz, the entire court breathed a sigh of relief. The Franks were finally showing themselves willing to negotiate. Selim immediately declined the Christian kings’ request that he attend personally, such a gesture was beneath a ruler of Selim’s stature. He also would not send Cüneyt Gazi Pasha. Despite the sultan’s personal affection for the Grand Vizier (probably the only thing keeping the pasha employed and still alive), he no longer trusted him to carry out policy. Instead, urged on by a new, growing, and assertive coterie of Farsi-speaking Persian and Tajik advisors, Selim appointed an eastern-dominated delegation. It was headed by Vāli Rustam Khan of Hamadan and included Reza Darvishi Khan of Esfahan and Housyar Khan, the Tajik Lord-Mayor of Tabriz. It was mid-July by the time the delegation arrived in Basra. They were given full diplomatic honors. A combined Austrian, French, and Italian cavalry escort met them at the village of Al-Hartha and accompanied them the final 40 kilometers. their 200-strong janissary retinue was housed in handsome villas around the city. The three monarchs welcomed the Ottomans with two days of feasting and celebration. The most awkward position was inhabited by Ismail Selim Pasha, the governor of the Basra eyalet who was, officially at least, “hosting” his sovereign’s representatives as an agent of foreign powers. While it went unappreciated by the sultan (Selim I had Selim Pasha executed as a traitor after the treaty was signed), the governor successfully lobbied for special provisions that privileged Basra with the Ottoman administration and also with foreign merchants. They helped revitalize the city and, in the coming decades, allowed it to compete with Baghdad as the economic center of Mesopotamia.

On 18 July, the talks began in earnest. The Persian-dominated delegation had one purpose: peace. Peace would give them the space and stability needed to rebuild the empire more in their image. With no ties to the west, they were more than happy to sacrifice lands in the Balkans and Egypt if those were the costs to end the conflict. The only cities off the table were Istanbul and Edirne. Reza Darvishi Khan shined as a key figure from the first moments. “Remarkably handsome for an Oriental,” in the words of Isacco Franza, secretary to the Papal Legate, he charmed everyone present, particularly the young Austrian archduke. Francesco II encouraged this relationship, surmising correctly that if the Austrians and Poles demanded less, the Italians could take more. In the end, the Ottoman diplomats granted all their lands in Egypt and the Sinai to Italy. Ragusa and Corfu, Italian war goals on the Adriatic, were handed over as well. Most importantly, Jerusalem, the true prize for the faithful, was surrendered. Together, they represented an incredible victory for Francesco II. On the other hand, Darvishi Khan, through flattery and courtesy, convinced Franz I to accept an appallingly lenient deal in the Balkans, a region now totally under allied control. The Austrians accepted peace at the cost of only four Turkish provinces: Bosnia (to Austria), Timishvar (to Hungary), Bucharest, and Buzău (the latter two to Poland). Even here, Francesco II inserted one of his own demands: the creation of an independent Principality of Albania. The Austrians and French supported the idea, and the Ottomans had no strong reason to object (they were happy to relinquish Albania in exchange for keeping all of mainland Greece). With the support and blessing of the Papal Legate, Sadik Zrinski was crowned Prince Sadik I of Albania. To cement the relationship with his new ally across the Adriatic, Francesco II arranged for a marriage between his brother, Prince Girolamo, and Sadik I’s sister, Luliana. This match would come to have significant dynastic implications when the newly crowned prince remained childless into his advanced years.


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King Sadik I of Albania

More contentious than any territorial changes, were the negotiations over the allied armies’ routes of return. The Ottoman representatives were primarily concerned with the troops commanded by the three monarchs present. Even with Franz I’s campaign to capture Baghdad, Mesopotamia escaped the Great Crusade largely unharmed. Darvishi Khan and his colleagues wanted to avoid any nightmare scenario where marauding mobs of Christian soldiers killed, burned, raped, and looted their way through Tigris and Euphrates Valley. Thus, they offered to pay the costs associated with moving the armies back to Europe so long as they followed agreed-upon routes and avoided causing too many problems. In the short term, it was a bleak moment for the Ottoman Empire: in addition to the humiliation, the cost of paying to return upwards of 70,000 Christian soldiers in Anatolia and Mesopotamia bankrupted the treasury. However, the Christian kings adhered to the bargain, and the already battered Ottoman lands were spared too much further brutality. The survival of the Ottoman economic base around the Persian Gulf gave the empire a springboard from which she could rebound from the defeat.

On 2 August 1675, after final tweaks to the new borders and adjustments to the armies’ return routes, all parties signed the Peace of Basra. For a grand war with world-historical consequences, the peace treaty was signed in a subdued, businesslike manner. Even with three important European monarchs present, there was no overwhelming fanfare. Archduke Franz did order to have his finest regiments drawn up to stand in formation and offer a salute to the departing Ottoman emissaries. Once the defeated foes had departed, the army saluted the three monarchs before receiving a blessing from the Papal Legate.


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The Peace of Basra.

The restrained nature of the victory celebrations in Basra was not matched by the folks at home. In Europe, news of victory was greeted with euphoria. This was not just a war victory. The Great Crusade lifted the veil of fear that had covered Europe for a quarter millennium. The Ottomans were defeated. Everyone understood that they were not finished, or even close to finished. But they had been vanquished once, and they could never be invincible again. From 1675 onwards, the relationship between Istanbul and her European adversaries changed in subtle, yet significant ways. The Ottoman Empire remained a hated enemy, but she no longer haunted the minds of Europeans as a sort of apocalypse-in-the-form-of-a-state.

The war was also the fulfillment of centuries of Europeans’ crusading fantasies. Not only had the Islamic foe been vanquished, but the crusade had also restored the realms of Outremer. Two new kingdoms were born, and for the first time since 1291, Christians ruled the Holy Land. The magnitude of the achievement pervaded all aspects of European culture through the end of the century. It spurred a renewed wave of exploration abroad, as access to the Red Sea and, eventually, the Indian Ocean, opened new routes for Europeans. For Italy specifically, the conquest of Egypt and Palestine granted access to Asia along with greater opportunities of economic expansion and colonial conquest. Among the more religious, the return of newly “liberated” relics to major European cities helped enhance the prestige of religious institutions and the Catholic Church as a whole. Among the learned, such as the men of the Accademie, the tales and artifacts brought back by the crusading armies sparked a renewed interest in the “Orient” that eventually even seeped into fashion (a notably “Turkish” look became popular among the fashionable, sophisticated women attending salons in Paris, Milan, Florence, Vienna, and elsewhere) and cuisine (access to new spices and other commodities).

Italian opera in particular rode this wave of triumphalism. A number of operas from the preceding decades based on the Crusades (in reality, they were all based on Tasso’s epic story or other Medieval legends) were revived in Venice, Milan, Florence, Ferrara, Parma, Naples, and elsewhere. The most notable were Rinaldo Innamorato (1623, composed by Francesca Caccini), Erminia sul Giordano (1633, composed by Michelangelo Rossi, libretto by Giulio Rospigliosi), L'Armida (1639, composed by Benedetto Ferrari, libretto by Benedetto Ferrari), and L'Amore Trionfante dello Sdegno (1641, composed by Marco Marazzoli). In the quarter century following the end of the Great Crusade, a plethora of new operas were written and composed to both celebrate the recent campaign and pay homage to the original Medieval crusaders. In many, the Medieval fantasies were reshaped to interact with the contemporary heroes. Among the best of this category were La Gerusalemme Liberata (1687, composed by Carlo Pallavicino, libretto by Vincenzo Grimani and Girolamo Frisari), Gli Avvenimenti di Erminia e di Clorinda (1693, composed by Carlo Francesco Pollarolo, libretto by Giulio Cesare Corradi), and Gli Amori e Incanti di Rinaldo con Armida (1694, composed by Teofilo Orgiani, libretto by Giralomo Colatelli). In Crociata (1681, composed by Donatello Barbagallo, libretto by Orlando Pellegrini) the character of Francesco II falls in love with the fictional knight heroine Bradamante, fancifully recast as a Syrian Christian warrior princess (Queen Maria Maddalena was said to find the concept particularly amusing). The popularity of these works was not limited to Italy. The most popular opera of the late Seventeenth Century in France was by Jean-Baptiste Lully’s Armide, which premiered in Paris with King Louis XX in attendance in 1686 and featured the French monarch in a similar reality-bending romance with a legendary Medieval heroine. Composed by Jean-Baptiste Lully with a libretto by Philippe Quinault, it was a remained a regular feature at the expanding court at Versailles for decades to come.


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Procession celebrating the arrival of a shard from the True Cross in Venice, 1675

On the other side, the Ottoman Empire was devastated and humiliated. Some escaped the desolation better than others. Alemdar, despite his many defeats in the Great Crusade, had never lost catastrophically. In the end, the course of the war vindicated his initial strategic vision. The Ottomans should have withdrawn and waited out the invasion, using the vastness of their empire to their advantage. Historians (and Turkish historians in particular) have been kinder to Hadim Pasha, the dashing young general martyred in his desperate fight to save Istanbul from the Franks. Alemdar was portrayed in later years as the slimy careerist only interested in gaining power. In the end, he was nevertheless rewarded by being forgotten. He was somehow missed during the post-war purge of the upper levels of the Ottoman military and bureaucracy. In 1679, the sultan accepted Alemdar’s resignation and the general moved back to his native Albania. Despite repeated entreaties from Prince Sadik I, Alemdar never again took up arms. He remained loyal to his Padishah, even dedicating his memoirs to his former master. He died in his villa overlooking the Bay of Vlorë in 1688.

Cüneyt Gazi Pasha was not so lucky. As was tradition after any defeat, the Grand Vizier was ordered to be executed. The Sultan, it was said, gave the order to kill his most trusted advisor with tears in his eyes. Gazi Pasha submitted to his execution with dignity and solemn acceptance. He was strangled to death by members of the Sultan’s elite guards with a silk cord, the method of capital punishment reserved for high-ranking Ottoman subjects. His last words were, “am I to die?” and, after an affirmative response from his assassins, “as God pleases.” When the Padishah received the news that the deed was done, he wept in open court. Still, the very act, the ruthlessness, gave an insight into the future resurgence of this embattled ruler. Within a decade, Selim I, then a more seasoned and hardened ruler following the ordeals of the Great Crusade, would go a long way toward restoring Ottoman glory and prestige on the battlefields of the Arabian Peninsula and the Russian Steppes. The same stoicism that had kept him from despairing even in the darkest moments of the Holy League’s invasion allowed him to get back to work methodically rebuilding his empire. The next time the sultan crossed swords with Francesco II, it would not be as a green boy, but as a wizened and battle-hardened man.

From a social and cultural perspective, an important long-term effect of the defeat in the Great Crusade was a renaissance of Persian culture, art, and civil society, which in turn would influence the wider Ottoman Empire. The western lands were devastated. Istanbul saw her access to the Mediterranean, once a source of great wealth and prestige, severely curtailed. Italy’s mastery of that sea was now unquestioned. Even the capital, so recently the most splendid city in the world, would not fully recover from the sack for a generation. With the previously dominant western provinces devastated or annexed by Christians, the eastern half of the empire gained income and influence. The Persian noble, intellectual, and economic classes had a choice: use the Ottomans’ weakness to break away or use their own powers to save and restore the empire. They chose the latter option and were repaid by a grateful ruler with a rise in power at court and in the military. Ushering in a new era, Reza Darvishi Khan was appointed Grand Vizier of the empire, the first Persian in a post long dominated by Balkan-born candidates.


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Reza Darvishi Khan, the first Persian Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire

The governance of the two new Christian kingdoms, Jerusalem and Egypt, would remain a work in progress for years. In the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Francesco II followed the example of the legendary Godfrey of Bouillon, leader of the First Crusade, by refusing the title King of Jerusalem and instead adopting Advocatus Sancti Sepulchri (Protector of the Holy Sepulcher). Much of the actual administrative burden of ruling the newly conquered Kingdom of Jerusalem fell to several chivalric orders, restored to their Medieval status. The Knights Hospitaller, 384 years after being expelled from the Holy Land by the Mamluk Empire, returned to rule over the provinces of Al Karak, Sinai, and Suez. The Teutonic Order got Nablus (they soon transferred their headquarters there, completing a nearly two century period of wandering since they were forced out of Danzig by the Polish king Jan II in 1490) and the Livonian Order got Ajlun. Gaza, with its great fortress, was styled the County of Gaza and remained a direct possession of the Italian crown, though officially it was also a fief of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. This bizarre feudal organization of the kingdom resulted in a situation where the King of Italy, in his capacity as Count of Gaza, was a vassal to a cartel of monastic orders who were themselves vassals of the king. This entire apparatus was itself, a vassal state of the Papacy, at least on paper. The pontiffs never made much of a fuss about collecting feudal dues, however. Perhaps this was because the papacy’s significant temporal power and gravitas were only possible because any utterance from Rome was backed up by the threat of Italian military power. Still, the antiquated style of government likely pleased the ponderous administrative apparatus in Rome, as it allowed them to take some credit for the distribution of the spoils. Furthermore, it may have been a way to head off potentially senseless disputes between the various orders over ancient rights. This relatively equal redistribution, sensitive to particular historical facts (such as ensuring the Hospitallers were awarded the Krak des Chevaliers), did successfully avoid such quarrels. Still, when in later years the confused and unprepared local authorities failed repeatedly to administer their realm, Francesco II may have come to regret his decisions.

Egypt would be administered in a more straightforward manner, though this helped little in the short term. While it was in theory one entity administered from Alexandria, the Kingdom of Egypt was practically two states. The Mediterranean coast provinces were deemed to be “Christian” and thus privileged the Maronites, Copts, Catholics, and other Christian factions that lived there (this same arrangement existed in Jerusalem proper and the province of Al Karak within the Kingdom of Jerusalem). Elsewhere, however, the Muslim majority remained in place and in power. Local governance was mostly conducted by Muslims. The central administrators in Cairo were Catholic Italians, but the clerks, lawyers, bookkeepers, tax collectors, and notaries who conducted the interminable, dull, yet vital work of running the kingdom’s day to day affairs remained Muslims. Outside of the three Christian provinces, there were no restrictions on the construction and expansion of mosques, aside from the one condition that they could not be built on top of a site that contained or had contained a Christian church. Cairo remained a great center of Islamic culture and prestige. Al-Azhar University was still a premier center of Islamic learning. However, these few open-handed policies would not be enough to overcome the wave of poverty that followed the war in Egypt. A rapidly growing wealth disparity between the provinces governed by Alexandria and those governed by Cairo only inflamed tensions.

After he returned home, Francesco II founded a new chivalric order of his. However, they were not to be the new protectors of Jerusalem, but rather to administer the distribution of relief and healthcare to veterans of the crusade. It was a mass organization and created a new, huge bureaucratic administration at the court. In the years following the war, the Order of the Knights of Jerusalem endowed hospitals in several major Italian cities. Florence, Milan, Naples, Messina, Bologna, Venice, and Reggio Calabria opened centers where veterans of the war could gain access to medical care, interest free loans from the Medici Bank, and even housing in some cases. Colloquially dubbed case dei soldati (“soldiers’ homes”), these acts of beneficence toward the military would keep this crucial bastion of power loyal to the crown in even the darkest days to come. However, the cost of managing such beneficence would put an extreme burden on the state’s finances in the years to come, making it more difficult to claw back in times of crisis.

All of the energy going into the integration of newly conquered lands sapped the energy of Italy’s foreign affairs. The king’s gambit, which snatched up vast swathes of spiritually and economically important land, alienated his allies and set off the destruction of the Holy League. The results of the war just finished, set the stage for the wars to come.

At least the French, who had arguably the greatest claim to feeling diplomatic insult, were blessed with a king who lacked territorial ambitions on the opposite bank of the Mediterranean and who was content with the loot and acclaim brought by the Great Crusade. Indeed, it is perhaps a testament to the character of Louis XX, however flawed, that the Franco-Italian alliance would be the only one to survive the fallout from the crusade. The Valois were no less ambitious than the Medici, and they understood the value of their mutual alliance. It also kept the Italians from raising the ever-contentious matter of the French bastion in Cuneo, which gave Louis a reach into the upper Po Valley and controlled the headwaters of Italy’s most crucial river (“like a groping hand up our skirts,” in the words of Ginevra Toscani). France was primarily focused on colonial expansion in the Americas and, to a growing extent, Asia. She was ready for peace in the Mediterranean and her alliance with her cousin to the south was the best guarantor of that.

In Poland, the reaction was on the other end of the spectrum. When the Marshal of the Sejm, Stanisław Antoni Szczuka, read out the peace terms, a brief period of shocked silence soon erupted into enraged cries. None of the coalition members had fought the Ottomans for as long and as hard as the Poles had. They had made the greatest contribution in numbers of men and suffered the most casualties among any Holy League members. The Peace of Basra was, in the eyes of the Sejm as well as many succeeding generations of Poles, a crime. The Italian alliance was denounced, along with Italy’s king and the Archduke of Austria. Florence and Vienna had conspired to undermine Warsaw, said some. Others wanted to continue alone, arguing that the Ottoman armies were defeated, and Poland could soldier on, forcing the Ottoman Empire to give up more land. But the Crown was running out of money and the idea of launching a campaign into Persia without any support from any allies seemed too risky. Polish armies were already dependent on Italian and French supply lines to feed and outfit their troops far afield. King Henryk II considered the peace a personal affront. He had left his meeting with Francesco II in May of 1674 believing he had found a friend and partner. That all disappeared with the end of the Great Crusade. All the effort of Grimaldi and Orsini to keep the allied armies together in the Balkans during the war, would go for naught. Their king, in his pursuit of national and personal gloria, undid the goodwill his generals had developed. The brotherhood between Italian and Polish soldiers, built on grim Balkan battlefields, could not survive the ambitions of either side’s leaders. The Polish king, so recently crowned and having yet to spend any time ruling from Poland, did not openly break the alliance with Italy yet. However, it drove Poland, her honor slighted, further into the arms of Lithuania and set the stage for European tragedy.

For Austria, the decision to abandon hope for Catholic unity took longer to reach, was more indirect, and was done without direct antipathy toward Italy. Archduke Franz was, all in all, satisfied with the results of the war. He had been crucial in making the peace, after all. His southern frontier was secure, and he had expanded his lands. Still, once the parades and masses ended, Austria’s strategic situation returned to the status quo ante bellum: France and Poland remained her irreconcilable rivals. Had Francesco been able to hold the League together, perhaps long-term collaboration could have truly brought the Habsburgs closer to their foes. However, with an irreconcilable split between Florence and Warsaw on the horizon, Vienna had no choice but to hedge her bets. She doubled down on the alliance with London, the “Cromwellian Regime”, as the Kingdom of Great Britain was named in Italian diplomatic circles. In Italy, Queen Maria Maddalena did everything in her power to save the relationship between the land where she was born and the land she now called home. In this case, even as indefatigable a woman as she could not overcome the realities of European great power politics. The Holy League, as a diplomatic project, was over. In less than three years, Catholic armies would be massacring each other from the Alps to the shores of the Baltic Sea.

Those unfortunate events, however, lay in the future. In the moment, Francesco II and his armies returned to Italy as heroes. The Armata di Gerusalemme landed in Naples on 17 October 1675, to be met by euphoric crowds. After several days of merriment, Francesco granted indefinite leaves of absence to all men pertaining to regiments hailing from the lands south of Rome. On 24 October, the remaining troops marched north at a leisurely pace, reaching Rome on the 31st. On 1 November, Feast of All Saints, the Pope blessed the army, and dedicated a special mass to them. The following day, the Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed, the Pontiff celebrated the martyrs of the campaign, confirming that all those who died would go directly to heaven and that those who had returned were all absolved of their sins. When the army finally made it back to Florence in mid-November, it was as if carnival had come early. “It is as if the whole country is intoxicated,” wrote Annabella Gondi of the celebrations held for the returning troops. “It is impossible for any veteran of the campaign to buy a drink in any taverna or osteria and spend his own coin; doubtless someone else will demand the honor of paying for it,” noted Archimede Guicciardini. Italy’s position as the greatest power in the Mediterranean was secure. Her armies had won dazzling victories on three continents. Francesco II, ahead of his peers in France, Austria, and Poland, was seen as the greatest hero of Christendom. He returned home having vanquished Europe’s greatest foe and liberated the holiest city in Christianity. He was 33 years old. Even as more storm clouds gathered, Italy’s position, and that of her king, seemed unassailable.


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The Mediterranean at the end of the Great Crusade
 
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TheButterflyComposer

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The Italians are a proper up and coming super power now. If they continue to leech land from Tunis, maintain control of the Mediterranean (do they control Cyprus and Rhodes? Can't remember) and keep one major European ally, they seem set to be the dominant power in Europe for the next century.

However, the seeds have been sown for future combat as you say. Albania coming under the wing of Italy (possibly a personal union and annexation eventually) means future wars with the Ottomans (and further in the future, the Austrians) are certain. Meanwhile France remains an ally and friendly, but their presence on Italy's side of the alps is always going to be an issue, and if an administration decides to pursue their own empire in Algeria, the inevitable conflict over tunis may turn into all out war.

As for Poland, they can't actually hurt Italy directly, but then can take over Austria and Hungary if they want to, which means a big land war against them is on the cards sooner rather than later.

And thats not getting into any colonial conflicts that may arise in the amercias or elsewhere, bit really the Italians have such good prospects in europe and Africa that they may wish to limit their holdings in the new world to islands and minor holdings. Then again, east Asia is a goldmine of wealth and trade, and everyone is going to be scrambling for their place there.

Excellent and long chapter. Good to see this back.
 
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Cromwell

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Great work! Kept me reading well past when I should have been off my phone for the night. :D

It's hard to pick out individual things in such a huge (and uniformly brilliant) update but I particularly liked the parts about the unsucessful attempt to assist the Christian kingdom in Sudan with their rebel problem. I hope the Alodian's get explored further soon.

It's also interesting to see on the map that Genoa still exists in Crimea and the Caucusses even with Italy united. They are trapped between some big powers though, I don't envy their position one bit.

As for the main war it was a true monster of a fight. I feel sorry for the governor of Basra, he negotiated well for his city and was executed for his trouble! I am not all all surprised the Poles were disgusted by the division of the spoils at the end! Even without the foreshadowing it is clear relations with the Poles are going nowhere good in the future...

I'm really glad to see this active.
 

Idhrendur

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As the other have mentioned, it's great to see another update! Italy should focus on reclaiming Carthage. It's an affront to have an enemy so close.
 

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An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Christianity's revenge against the Islamic world is sure to deeply unsettle things generations from now.

Absolutely astonishing stuff as per always. The Liberation of Egypt and North Africa from Tunis seems promising.
 

roverS3

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Italy really outdid itself in this campaign. Of course, keeping the Holy league together was always going to be a long shot. I think Francesco made the right call by grabbing as much as he could get away with for Italy. One does have to feel bad for the Poles, who really got screwed over by the peace, supplying the largest force, and having been fighting the Ottomans for the longest time, they got 'just' a few provinces in the Balkans. The looting remains horrid, but sadly perfectly realistic considering the time-period and circumstances.

With Egypt in Italian hands, and both the Corsairs and the Ottoman Navy largely out of action, the Italian Navy reigns supreme in the med, allowing the construction of a larger Nort-African empire, and also the creation of new colonies further afield. Of course, on land, tensions due to the peace of Basra will mean that the Italian army will have to concentrate it's efforts on the European mainland.

Once again, a long-awaited, long-winded, and beautifully written update.

And thanks for the list of early Italian operatic work, that proved particularly suitable to this alternate reality. As a classical musician, it's always fascinating to find new and interesting works from a period or area I don't know that much about. (Pre-Corelli and Vivaldi)
 

Riotkiller

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An excellent and incredibly deep return, delighted to see this back!

Italy certainly did an excellent job of maximising its own returns from the Holy League, carving into the Holy Land whilst the rest of the League was focused on the Balkans and Anatolia. The loss of the alliance with Austria may hurt in the long run - particularly should relations further decline, as France may be the only significant friendly foreign power in a sea of vengeful enemies (Spain, the Ottoman Empire, Tunis, and now maybe Poland too). But the Italians are the cream of the world's militaries, and the economic benefits of total Mediterranean superiority can only further enhance this position :D
 
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JerseyGiants88

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Thank you so much for all the kind comments and for continuing to read my AAR despite the extensive delay between updates. I know this one took a ton of time, but I wanted to get across the huge implications of this massive war. The next chapter is just as momentous, except in the domestic realm. That being said, things have slowed down for me a bit (in terms of personal life stuff) so I am really hoping to avoid taking forever to write that one.

As for Poland, they can't actually hurt Italy directly, but then can take over Austria and Hungary if they want to, which means a big land war against them is on the cards sooner rather than later.

And thats not getting into any colonial conflicts that may arise in the amercias or elsewhere…

Right idea with a land war, but it will take place to the north, rather than to the south, of Poland. That will be featured in the chapter following the next one. And there will be plenty of colonial flare-ups in the years to come.

Excellent stuff, you really capture the scope and scale of a vast conflict. Obviously stormclouds are approaching. Italy did very nicely, perhaps a little too nicely for some. Also very interested by the Nile expedition and what the future holds in the region.

It's hard to pick out individual things in such a huge (and uniformly brilliant) update but I particularly liked the parts about the unsucessful attempt to assist the Christian kingdom in Sudan with their rebel problem. I hope the Alodian's get explored further soon.

There will be much more to come in the upper reaches of the Nile. Alodia will remain a recurring character in the story. However, and not to spoil anything, it won’t be in a paint-the-map/make-them-a-protectorate way.

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. Christianity's revenge against the Islamic world is sure to deeply unsettle things generations from now.

The looting remains horrid, but sadly perfectly realistic considering the time-period and circumstances.

And thanks for the list of early Italian operatic work, that proved particularly suitable to this alternate reality. As a classical musician, it's always fascinating to find new and interesting works from a period or area I don't know that much about. (Pre-Corelli and Vivaldi)

I am glad it came across as appropriately horrific. I would certainly rather avoid the looting and massacring and just say that the invading army was super nice to the occupied population and handed out food and blankets. But I think that would be cheap. I try to balance the triumphalism and the gains of the wars (or even any policy for that matter) with the costs, in terms of lives or morality, of carrying them out. And as much as I am seeking to craft a more humanitarian and just (in terms of 21st Century sensibilities) world compared to our real history, it would also be a cop out to simply get out of a war of conquest with clean hands, morally speaking. So while I don’t enjoy writing about my armies sacking cities, if I were to omit that part, then the story just becomes a series of “good guys win again!” updates. On the other side, I also try to avoid making any of my foes into comic book villains.

As for the operas, some of those are real, some I made up. I am a fan of Monteverdi, but I must admit I lack in knowledge anything/anyone who came after him for the next century and a half or so. .
 
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Viden

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Superb chapter. The peace of Basra was somewhat odd.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 60: The Constitution, 1675-1678

Christendom’s victory in the Great Crusade awakened new visions for the future of Europe. The specter of Ottoman supremacy finally subsided and new frontiers were suddenly visible. Italy’s conquest of Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula granted her access to the Red Sea and opened possibilities for trade routes to the east. However, there was a more ethereal aspect to this moment as well: one that involved the intellectual movement that would come to be known as the Enlightenment and that would shape the future of European government. Blessed with wealth and a forward-thinking monarch, the Italian Peninsula was about to witness the birth of a new era of pluralistic politics.

Still, the situation was not entirely without difficulty. The problems that would eventually boil over and lead to rebellion across the realm were just beginning to simmer. Florence was still managing the return of her armies from overseas and the resettlement of tens of thousands of veterans now in need of work and housing. The newly conquered realms had governments in theory, but in reality, large portions of them were in the grip of anarchy and lawlessness. Vast swaths of Egypt were outside the rule of law and subject to a barter economy and widespread banditry, further delegitimizing the new regime. New Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land were still being accosted on the roads due to a lack of security in Palestine.

Despite these brewing problems, the king and his advisors moved forward as if there was no danger. No sooner had Francesco returned from his epic conquest, that he dove headfirst into a similarly demanding and consequential project: the forging of a constitution. The king entered Italian domestic politics with the zeal of a new recruit, but little planning or consideration for the long term. He simply grasped onto an idea, an abstraction, one he would later develop into his magnum opus: Discorsi sulla Monarchia Virtuosa. Francesco II started this work while campaigning in the Holy Land, as he began to grapple with the significance of the Great Crusade and its effect on his legacy, as well as that of his country. It would inform the crafting of the new constitution. The vagaries of the war had brought the monarch into contact with a wide range of conversation partners well versed in theories of governance and philosophy. To begin with, he was surrounded by a coterie of aristocratic officers with whom he could delve into deep, abstract ideas. Many had joined the crusade for the thrill of participating in such an enormous moment in history, and the king appreciated their input. Many belonged to intellectual circles and societies back home, and their ideas certainly informed his thinking. On the other end of the spectrum, any of the king’s infantrymen could provide him the common man’s view of the realm. That he engaged in numerous conversations with both types of men, and all those in between, is well recorded. “His Majesty is always conversing with all manner of soldier,” wrote one of his field aides, Alighiero Rospigliosi, “and he makes no distinction by rank or appearance.” Doubtless, these interactions shaped the king’s philosophy on his role and office. By all accounts, he loved the soldier’s life. His service in the army helped form Francesco’s idea of kingship as a primarily military role and made him more willing to cede much of the control over domestic affairs to bureaucracies and other modern political entities.

The war also brought him into contact with numerous fellow monarchs. He spent time with Henryk II of Poland in the spring on 1674 and then with King Louis XX of France and Archduke Franz I of Austria at Basra the following year. The teenaged Franz had the greatest impact on Francesco personally. “Your brother is one of the finest men I have ever met,” the king wrote his wife, Queen Maria Maddalena, “he is brave and intellectually astute. His subjects ought to celebrate having such a sovereign.” The pair of rulers continued a steady correspondence in the years to come, each making their own marks on the European Enlightenment they both fostered and adapted for their own ends. They encouraged their various governmental ministers to maintain similar lines of communication with their peers in the other capital. Cornaro and her Austrian counterpart, the Prince-Bishop of Passau, Cardinal Stefan Mittelbach, exchanged copious letters analyzing all manner of government reform. That Italy and Austria both followed similar paths of domestic political transformation in the years to come was a testament to these government-to-government relationships. King Henryk II’s homeland provided another model for Francesco’s vision. A longstanding constitutional monarchy, Poland was far from perfectly governed, but her Sejm provided a template upon which Italy could base her own legislative body. Certainly, Francesco had no intention of making Italian kingship elective, but otherwise there was much to be potentially adopted. His idea of constitutional monarchy was also more progressive than the Polish model. In the Sejm, only the nobility had any real voice or representation. In Francesco’s concept (as well as that of Franz I in Austria) the parliament was to be representative of all the realm’s subjects (in theory, at least).

The constitutional venture was not solely a top-down affair. There were numerous avenues through which the king could hear his subjects’ views and their demands for more representation. Popular pamphlets, petitions, and letters received in the capital attested to this. For a public buoyed by overseas glory and money, demands for more rights found fertile ground. Officially filed grievances and petitions to the king could be trusted to make their way to Florence eventually. Most were even read and responded to. However, they could not compare to the importance of speaking to the king and court in person. Francesco II did not possess his father’s easygoing social graces, but he was eager to learn and to hear out his subjects. A well delivered plea before the monarch could deliver immediate results.

Severino Belfiore, a Veronese furniture maker renowned across Italy for making chests featuring opulent, gilded Baroque designs, complained of the excessive costs of moving his highly demanded products to ports. “Between Verona and Venice, my shipments are taxed by all sorts of scoundrels and ruffians claiming ‘noble blood’”, he thundered in open court, “even on the road to Florence I have suffered such offenses.” That he was in the capital accompanying the delivery of a custom-ordered bedroom set for Prince Girolamo, the king’s brother, certainly helped get him access to the monarch along with a favorable ear. Cipriano Norcia, known popularly as “the richest peasant in Umbria”, appeared before the king a few days after Belfiore. “I have a better business sense than all the high-born men in the province,” he declared, offering up his detailed ledgers as proof, “not one of these so-called gentlemen would even know how to read such a document, yet they still tax me as they wish, with no accountability.” The king heard the petition of numerous women as well. Novella Pasqualone, who was among a group of several dozen female petitioners who traveled to Florence from their homes in the countryside around Salerno, lamented the plight of low-born women confronted by “rapacious noblemen on horseback.” “They molest even the most chaste and innocent girls,” she told Francesco, “I have seen old women harassed and even nuns described in the most vile and blasphemous manner. And if our husbands or brothers or cousins defend us, they are arrested.” The king thanked Novella and her comrades for their “courageous testimony”, and they were treated to coffee with Queen Maria Maddalena and her ladies. The king then sent them back to Salerno with money and twenty soldiers from the Reggimento del Fiore with orders in writing to “detain any men as have been accused of indecent acts toward young girls, nuns, or any other virtuous women.” Others brought business complaints just as the men did. Sebastiana Panebianco, the owner of a mill in Abruzzi, complained of excessive taxation by landed noblemen despite the fact they were themselves often too poor to afford the services of her business. These testimonies had a great effect on the king and the members of his council. It provided the necessary motivation to move the constitutional project forward.


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The king was recipient to his subjects’ demands for more representation

By 1676, Francesco II had refined his view of the monarchy and how it should work. He wanted to grant rights and privileges to his subjects and territories but also free himself up to spend more time on campaign. With the king losing his status as an absolute ruler, his presence in Florence would become less important. Parliament and a regent could, in theory, run the country while the king went to war. Since Francesco viewed the role of the monarch primarily as a soldier and diplomat (i.e. focused on the country’s foreign affairs), this took away need for him to run day to day administration. This was not simply a dismissal of the need to engage in “coin counting” or other mundane governance tasks. The king trusted his advisors and administrators, Cornaro chief among them, and thus he was comfortable leaving the daily grind of administration to them.

To understand the broader intellectual milieu from which Francesco II’s radical thoughts developed, it is necessary to examine the continued development of Europe’s so-called Enlightenment. Starting in the late Seventeenth Century, a great flow of ideas, in the form of letters, research papers, books, and other media circled the continent. These connections formed the lifeblood of this new current of thought. The Italian intelligentsia of the time viewed this blossoming intellectual movement as a continuation and evolution of Renaissance humanism. Thus, they felt a claim to the movement as a whole and sought to compete fiercely in the philosophical and scientific forums and battles of the time. Florence’s Accademia del Cimento, with Francesco II as its patron, was among the most prestigious in Europe. Among its membership, the Accademia included the Danish pioneer in anatomy and geology Nicolas Steno (born to a Lutheran family in Denmark, he converted to Catholicism and moved to Italy in 1667, going on to become a bishop in his later years); the physician, naturalist, biologist, and poet Francesco Redi; the Augustine monk, scholar, and bibliophile Angelico Aprosio; and the philosopher, author, diplomat, and poet Lorenzo Magalotti. Magalotti’s main job, outside the Accademie, was as a chief advisor to Ginevra Toscani at the foreign ministry. He was especially well versed in German political matters, a land where he kept numerous contacts both for purely professional reasons as well as for his hobbies. He even served intermittently as ambassador to various German courts, including at Dresden (1672-74), Hamburg (1676-77), and Augsburg (1679). Among his numerous confidants was Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, with whom he intermittently exchanged letters on topics ranging from silver mining to psychology.


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On the practical application side of the Enlightenment, map and globe-making remained a growing field of paramount importance to governments interested in exploring and conquering foreign lands. For Francesco II in particular, they symbolized a coming together of his interests in natural and military sciences. He recruited numerous up-and-coming cartographers, including the Franciscan friar, cosmographer, cartographer, publisher, and encyclopedist Vincenzo Maria Coronelli. The king commissioned Coronelli, only 26 years old at the time, to construct a series of globes for the navy, with each ship meant to receive one. The project was never fully completed, though by the end of the decade almost all of the war galleons and at least one vessel in each trade flotilla was equipped with one.

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Coronelli’s terrestrial and celestial globes

This exchange of ideas was impervious to borders and, in most cases, even political enmities. The Royal Society in Great Britain (formally: The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge) maintained a consistently prolific rate of correspondence with several Italian accademie despite their two countries’ mutual hatred. The English writer, gardener, and diarist John Evelyn, one of the Society’s founders, visited Italy in 1677. He delivered lectures at the University of Bologna and at La Sapienza in Rome and, most importantly to him, got an extensive tour of the Bobboli Gardens in Florence, guided by the king’s chief gardener, Manfredo Scavuzzo. The era also bred debate and rivalry as much as it did brotherly cooperation. The Enlightenment was never a philosophical school with its own catechism, but rather a landscape of broad and frequently antagonistic debates between believers and unbelievers, libertarians and statists, cynics and social reformers, materialists and anarchists, utopians and pragmatists. This was as true among minority groups as it was for the mainstream of society. For instance, the brilliant young author, Rabbi Hezekiah da Silva of Livorno, future chief rabbi of Jerusalem, engaged in a spirited public debate with Jewish intellectual Giacobbe Sacerdote (in reality, Sacerdote was likely an atheist based on his private writings) over the meaning of the conquest of Jerusalem for European Jews. The king reportedly drank in these sorts of debates, even commissioning translations of minutes of meetings of the Royal Society and other research institutions.

As all these thinkers proclaimed their respective visions of progress, there always remained a need to look over their shoulders. In the Catholic states, and Italy in particular, the opinions of the Catholic Church were always top of mind. Whether a particular opinion was espoused by a Jew, an atheist, an agnostic, a Protestant, or even by a disenchanted parish priest, it was sure to be examined closely by the ever-watchful eye of the Inquisition. Though the Counter-Reformation’s official end had taken some of the bite out of the inquisitors, an institution of such power does not simply fade away. So long as the Church had a need to enforce orthodoxy and fight heresy and doubt, they would have a special place. Thus, even in the welcoming intellectual environment of Medicean Italy, the occasional victim still fed the fires of the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition. Francesco tried to position himself, to varying degrees of success, as a sort of go-between for the two camps in order to keep the peace. An unintended consequence of the Great Crusade’s success was the added leverage the king now had vis-à-vis the Church. Even the Pope would have a hard time making a heretic out of the man who just won the Holy Land back for Christendom. Thus, on several occasions, he was able to intervene successfully with the pontiff in favor of embattled intellectuals. Still, even this protection only went so far.

At least the ruling powers, both secular and spiritual, could take some comfort in the coarse nature of popular literature. Despite being a time of immense political transformation, in the typical Italian city of the last quarter of the 1600s, the people were not reading great political tracts or philosophical treatises. Even in Naples, Baldomero Mare’s Il Destino del Sud did not sell in overwhelming numbers (published in 1677, it was a masterful, impassioned plea for a stronger more just north-south union in Italy with true equality for the Mezzogiorno). Political messaging in these times remained more effective when it was simple. It was easier to print and distribute one-to-two-page pamphlets with easy to digest messages than it was to invest in publishing a full volume.

Instead, the era’s best sellers were more along the lines of Le Tagedie di Zio Socrate. This anonymously published (many believe the true author was the writer Gesualdo Troccoli of Bari), multi-volume series first printed in 1676 told the comical misadventures of a wealthy and seemingly successful character who was nevertheless subject to constant failure and humiliation. The narrator, a peasant boy somewhere in his teens, tells the tales with a sense of detached satisfaction, as the pompous, overly educated, striver of an uncle repeatedly fails to be anything but a laughingstock. The crude humor in these stories contained its own subtle, yet subversive social commentary. In the third volume, published in 1678, Uncle Socrates discovers to his horror and chagrin that his wife is cuckolding him with both the wealthy duke in the nearby estate and with the hired farm laborer, the former because he is wealthier than her husband and the latter because he is more masculine than her husband. Thus, the narrator assures his reader, the upwardly mobile peasant-proprietor was caught in a sort of no-man’s land: detached from real power and from his more rugged roots, destined to be bested by both. That real life versions of Uncle Socrates and his peers in the new middle classes were actually gaining power at the expense of both the poor and the aristocracy only added more fuel to the hatred of exactly this type of character from below and above. Donata Lo Cascio’s books, popular among women, regularly featured female leads whose success hinged on their ability to take advantage of ambitious men’s arrogance to get their way. Less subversive but equally popular were tales of Caribbean pirates like Manfredo Scarfone’s Storie dei Pirati Scozzesi (Stories of the Scottish Pirates), travel logs like Leopoldo La Penna’s Viaggi Nelle isole della Sonda (Travels in the Sunda Islands), and love stories like Gaddo Gaddi’s Li Eventi di Filandro Et Edessa. Even the works of the flamboyant Renaissance character Benvenuto Cellini enjoyed a revival of interest. Giambattista Basile’s epic collection of fairy tales, the Pentamerone, remained a permanent best seller (the flamboyant, sword-wielding feline protagonist of Il Gatto con gli Stivali, or Puss in Boots, was a highly appropriate symbol of the age). Books of virtue and chastity were always outsold by their more sensationalist competition. The best the guardians of public morals could do was to lean on the booksellers to offer customers morally “nourishing” stories alongside those of sin and adventure. Often, these morally questionable books would also include a preface by a religious authority that gave the “correct” interpretation of these tales of sin; a preface that could be conveniently leafed over by the reader. The many troubled comments recorded by theologians who feared that the simple people were being lured away from a life of piety by immoral tales suggests that they had reason to be concerned. The Italians were becoming a reading nation, and books were loved not only by the well-heeled middle classes but also sailors and maids.

News from around the world was equally popular and easy to come by, particularly in the port cities. In time of war, news became essential. The reading public wanted sensational stories too, and a booming market supplied them aplenty. By the second half of the Seventeenth Century, there were numerous book sellers in every city and big town, and they often doubled as publishers. Their shops churned out constant waves of bold headlines above ornate illustrations and large print stories. Paperboys stood on street corners, hawking the latest news sheets and scandalous tales. “What a miracle!” they would cry, “What shocking news!” The headlines included “A Terrible Murder in Pescara!”, “Horrifying Fire in Piacenza!”, “Amazing Ghost in Milan!”, “How Three Students in Perugia Violated Two Girls and Killed Four!”, “See: How a Dozen Wizards Destroyed a Town and Several Thousand Cattle!” This last headline included an illustration of two men being hanged with their feet just above a glowing bed of fire. During the war years, the bestselling news sheets were those with battle reports. Aside from their standalone entertainment value, these were crucial because the outcomes of faraway battles could affect prices and markets at home. The coming years of crisis would center heavily on these news propaganda battles. Tales of murder and betrayal were all the more entertaining if the fate of the country hung in the balance as well.


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Various Italian periodicals of the late Seventeenth Century

It was in this climate of intellectual and social change that the great transformation of Italian governance occurred. For everyone in the realm, life was increasingly governed not by religious rules or ancient traditions. The outlines of the modern state were born with the establishment of courts and market regulatory bodies; with the creation and maintenance of roads, harbors, bridges, and other means of reliable transport and communication; and with the government seeking to attract investment by emphasizing stability and growth. The social order was based less and less on feudal hierarchies and more and more on markets and trade. The emerging middle classes and what would become the working class had important and different roles to play. Members of the middle class were significant not only as consumers of domestic production but also as educated experts who enabled the state to run smoothly and find new avenues of creating wealth.

As has been seen, these increasingly assertive middle classes were comprised primarily of the contadini grossi in the countryside, and the merchants in the cities. In the Italian context, the latter were used to having a class identity and consciousness. These had deep roots and formal political and social organizations going back centuries. Even the Medici traced their origins to the Florentine proto-bourgeoisie of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries. On the other hand, the landed peasants, or peasant-proprietors, were only beginning to gain a class consciousness distinct from their poorer rural cousins. The families that had achieved a level of wealth and stability comparable to the aristocracy (and in some cases surpassing it) began to see themselves as different. The good taste and refinement in manners that accompany higher education were available to these newly rich families and they took full advantage. However well-educated or well-paid, these classes still retained little in the form of assured privilege. Thus, in both cases, their self-interest naturally supported a market that was independent from the control of the monarch (which in large part already existed in Italy), and institutions that were capable of protecting them from the whims of noblemen (which was their primary political goal). This created social and economic attitudes that later would be associated with early capitalist moral philosophers and economists. Stability and growth of the national economy became the two sacred pillars around which these middle classes united. In turn, these pillars would increasingly be seen as criteria for measuring the success of societies around the world. This success would not be measured in honor or divine grace, as in medieval times, but in wealth, tax revenue, infrastructure, warships, and trade depots brimming with goods and supplies. Much of this framework was already de facto in place. What the rising middle classes desired was to seize this moment of ascendance to enshrine the rights they wanted into law for perpetuity.

The merchants and landed peasants had no interest in stripping the king himself of power; he was, after all, their protector at home and abroad. What they did want was a say in the exercise of that power. The leading trade houses in the kingdom were eager to take advantage of Florence’s newfound imperial stature. With the Red Sea now accessible, no sooner had the ink dried on the Peace of Basra that Italian merchants, accountants, mercenaries, shipbuilders, and other businessmen and adventurers began flocking to the cities of Suez and Aqaba to build or expand their port facilities. A new trade fleet was already starting production and it was to be complemented by a well-run overland network transporting goods from Alexandria and Damietta to Suez in Egypt and from Gaza to Aqaba in Jerusalem. For the first time, visions of opening Asian markets appeared a reality. Thus, these classes supported a strong military and envisioned the king’s role as a sort of generalissimo tirelessly leading the armies of Christendom to conquer heathens and their homelands for profit. Francesco II, fashioning himself a Christian warrior-king, was happy to embrace this role.


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An influx of new trade ideas

The poor also had a crucial role to play in this nascent system the middle classes sought to create. This was not meant to grant them any more rights than they already had, as the shipping magnate-turned-moralist Rodrigo De Rienzo explained. Born into a well-heeled Florentine clan with deep connections to Rome, De Rienzo expanded and modernized the family shipping business, reaping huge profits swiftly and efficiently transporting goods across the Atlantic for smaller business ventures who could not afford their own ships. He used this fortune to buy a career as a writer, using his powers to deliver plodding, sanctimonious lectures in print to the masses. He had influence among the Roman curia and was also a powerful figure in the Florentine Guelph party who would soon feature even more prominently on the national political stage. In his most widely read and influential work, the Discorso Sulla Natura e le Cause della Ricchezza del Regno, Italy’s most famous moralist pointed to the lower classes as the primary engine of the economy, so long as they were correctly exploited. The cheap labor of the poor would transform the kingdom’s raw materials into expensive articles for export. By paying them little, their employers contributed to higher overall tax revenue, a patriotic act in itself. This also had a moral dimension. De Rienzo and his many followers argued that the poor were undisciplined and thus liable to abandon themselves to fornication, alcohol, card games, and laziness. Only strict work and a frugal life could keep them on the path of morality and godliness. Left to their own devices, they would plunge the entire country into an abyss of lawlessness and debauchery. De Rienzo and his fellow bourgeois vociferously fought to control poor people themselves, but not against poverty. A population on the breadline represented a vast reservoir of cheap workers. Just as in the medieval world, De Rienzo felt, poverty had a purpose: it was an integral part of a functioning society. While the middle classes were supposed to move upward and gain independent wealth, those at the bottom of society had to be controlled and, if necessary, disciplined. They should not be kept so hungry that they could no longer work effectively, but if they were given too much money, or educated to develop ideas above their lowly station, the whole edifice of society would come crashing down.

Thankfully, in Italy at any rate, heavy doses of cultural and religious inertia stood in the way of such proto-capitalist control methods fully sinking in. The Protestant work ethic was dead on arrival, and the country’s economic growth in the coming decades occurred largely despite, not because of, prevailing cultural conditions. Even the Church was skeptical. The middle classes' striving for ever-increasing efficiency and rationalism stood little chance against centuries of Vatican-sponsored ceremonial and ritual extravagances. Thus, was born in Italian art the stock character rivalry between the successful yet unhappy bourgeois and the lazy and poor peasant, who was nonetheless carefree and content. Reality was of course more complex than a comedia dell'arte performance, but this tension between ideologies remained central to Italian political culture for centuries to come.

The chief target of the middle classes remained, as always, the petty aristocracy. While the poor were a population to be controlled and exploited, the aristocrats were true class enemies. In both the cities and the countryside, they occupied positions of great privilege despite their dwindling wealth, and they lorded their ancestral status over their social “inferiors” in myriad ways. This ranged from the petty, like refusing to invite the wealthiest man in town to a social event because he was low-born, to serious, like demanding (and often extorting) exorbitant taxes from well-off peasants. Perhaps counterintuitively, this was thrown into starkest relief in the wealthier, more developed parts of Italy. In places like Tuscany, Venice, and Lombardy, much of the Medieval political and economic structure had ceased to exist, yet aristocrats were granted massive advantages simply by virtue of their birth. These social and economic factors helped forge the ideological alliance between the profit-seeking bourgeois and the progressive Enlightenment intellectuals. This was the base of support upon which Francesco II’s constitution was to be built.

Still, it was easy for the king and his middle-class intellectual supporters, both at home and abroad, to spin their ideas of virtuous government in the ethereal realm of theory. It was another thing entirely to put these concepts into effect. This part of the job fell to Elena Cornaro Piscopia, whose even-tempered guidance had run one of Europe’s most efficient interior ministries for over a quarter century. She would begin to transform the king’s thoughts into solid, real, and sweeping changes in Italian political life. Successfully triggering and implementing a top-down revolution seemed a daunting task under the best conditions. Undaunted, she jumped into the task, determined to help her king land with grace. The programs and events the pair set in motion would transform Italy and her possessions dramatically over the next quarter century. Cornaro grew the Italian civil service under her watch. She was a diligent reader and even taught herself how to read Turkish so that she could better understand the Ottomans’ highly advanced administrative methods. One of her primary innovations was the opening of government offices in numerous cities and large towns across Italy. These gave the crown’s subjects access to the central government, albeit it with several layers of bureaucracy in between. Still, it opened a slow but steady line of communication between the Interior Ministry and the people. Known as the uffici pubblici (singular: ufficio pubblico), the smallest were staffed by one or two clerks who spent their days shuffling through correspondence between the capital and local officials, distributing and declaring royal announcements (a clerk would regularly read whatever official news arrived from Florence), receiving grievances and petitions from the local populace, and other assorted tasks. The larger offices, such as the massive one in Verona, employed between 20 and 30 people. Located in the Palazzo Maffei on the Piazza delle Erbe, it was refurbished and expanded with help from an endowment from Giulio Gattilusio, Marquis of Verona, who helped the crown hire engineers and botanists to go into the field to assist farmers with irrigation and crops. In most places, the offices worked closely with the local parish churches, since the average person’s only regular interaction with a major institution was at their place of worship. As a slew of new laws and ordnances swept the nation after the passage of the constitution, the uffici pubblici were vital in transmitting these changes to the population at large.


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Side view of the front of the Palazzo Maffei; as one of the largest uffici pubblici
, it was a vital link between the government and the people

The northern cities, as was so often the case in Italian history, were the loudest at asserting their political rights. They had the highest density of middle-class citizens, they championed the constitution and helped make it reality. Not only were places like Florence, Siena, Milan, Genoa, Venice, and Bologna the intellectual centers of the country, but they were also the most dynamic engines of the economy. Those seeking success in those great cities needed to have qualities that country folk did not need. In the city, one could (and, indeed, often had to) reinvent oneself. In rural towns, with their guilds, price controls, and social rigidity, there was little beyond menial jobs and drudgery. The modern cities, however, were quite different creatures. In this regard, northern Italy (along with the Low Countries and England) was ahead of other European regions, with market-based economies and various levels of specialization. This is not to say that any city, much less the belligerent, unruly conglomerates of Tuscany, the Veneto, and the Padania, were monoliths. The Guelph-Ghibelline wars had torn these cities apart in the late Middle Ages and the power struggles of the Renaissance had made street violence a regular feature of urban life. This darker side of Italian political engagement would soon resurface. Along with a revitalized civil society, came a violent, quarrelsome underside and both would come to color the future political landscape of Florence and the lands under her rule.

Despite these dangers, the alliance forged between the crown and the upper levels of the third estate was fruitful for both. The latter's reasons were quite obvious. The former's favored pragmatism over tradition. By forging ahead with the constitution, the king committed the crown to dismantling the noble privileges which had long weakened royal finances and which numerous Medici rulers had tried to limit. Historians have long speculated that Francesco II resented the aristocrats for having abandoned him and, more importantly, his mother, when he was a child. In one of those odd twists of history, a man happened upon the throne of Italy who had spent some of his most formative moments alongside members of the lower classes. As a child, Francesco lived in hiding with peasants, fell in love with actresses, and fought alongside swaggering bravos. He thus had a greater understanding of the lower classes than any Italian monarch before or since. The merchant classes and the landed peasantry hated the aristocracy. They knew (in their opinion) that they were smarter and worked harder than their class rivals, but the laws were against them. To their credit, they understood they had an ally in the king and were prepared to use that connection to gain even greater power and deal a blow to the aristocracy. For these reasons, and for the first time since its rise as a class from the ashes of the post-Roman world, the nobility found itself thoroughly expendable and under threat from its class enemies, both above and below. The constitution would unleash the power of these middling classes and the king clearly favored their cause.

In late February, Cornaro’s Interior Ministry dispatched letters to the authorities in fourteen provinces ordering them to elect delegations of “highly regarded men to attend a congress in Florence.” They were further informed that “His Majesty seeks the counsel of the kingdom’s best minds in order to determine the future form of the state.” Given such a momentous declaration, interest was high, and within weeks meetings were held in the various provincial capitals to name delegates. Some of these became rather contentious affairs.

In Naples, multiple knife fights occurred in the Piazza del Mercato, and large, angry crowds of peasants and small-time shop keepers crowded around the edges of the square, demanding to send their own delegates alongside those of the city’s wealthiest citizens. In an atmosphere disturbingly reminiscent (to the elites, at least) of the bloodshed of Masaniello’s Revolt six decades earlier, the Neapolitan nobles this time compromised in a timely manner and avoided unleashing the fury of the commons. They guaranteed 10 of the province’s 72 warrants to “men of humble birth,” in the words of Naples’ Archbishop Innico Caracciolo, who served as a de facto guarantor of the agreement. While it may seem like a rather small concession, it actually represented an immense victory for the lower classes, particularly in a southern city. The agreement was intended to be in effect only for the initial selection of delegates, and there was no mention of future elections (of course, this would have been impossible since nobody had any idea they were about to be granted a permanent parliament), this set a precedent from which there was no turning back. Henceforth, popular figures in poor urban neighborhoods or large rural towns became regular fixtures in the Neapolitan delegations.


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The convention to select delegates in the Piazza del Mercato in Naples

Each selected province was given guidance as to the size of their respective delegations based on their populations as measured in the census of 1670. The origin of the decision to assign delegate seats according to population is unclear, but the controversial decision would cause much acrimony in the months to come. The veery legitimacy of the 1670 census would be called into question. That is not even to include the flood of protestations from provincial notables across the realm, whose own home cities and towns would be completely unrepresented. Even the king’s personal friend and greatest general, Carlo Grimaldi, serving in his capacity as the Duke of Urbino, penned a plaintive missive decrying the lack of an invitation for the people of Urbino to the assembly. In the end, 365 “warrants” were dispatched to the provinces, each one to serve as a ticket of admission to the council in Florence. Some provinces, like Milan and Naples, were extremely well represented, while Lucca and Siena only sent a handful of people.

ProvinceDelegates
Bologna
24
Cagliari
3
Ferrara
18
Florence
54
Genoa
21
Lucca
3
Malta
3
Mantua
6
Milan
73
Naples
72
Palermo
27
Salerno
9
Siena
6
Venice
46
Total
365

By the end of April, delegations began streaming into Florence, prepared for the assembly. On 1 May 1676, King Francesco II and Queen Maria Maddalena welcomed them to a splendid ceremony at the Palazzo Reale (the Palazzo Pitti’s new, more splendid title; though the locals stubbornly clung to the original name despite the crown’s best efforts). Some of the delegates were old hands at the royal court. Duke Archimede d’Este of Ferrara and Duke Emiliano Gonzaga of Mantua were longstanding acquaintances of the king who felt just as at home on the streets of Florence as in their own hometowns. Others, like Fazio Mendicino and Spartaco Rinaldi, respectively of the Salerno and Milan delegations, were making their first trips to the capital. Ġużè Marchesan of the Maltese delegation had never even set foot on the Italian mainland before he disembarked in Livorno on his way to Florence.

Two days later, on 3 May, the king officially opened the first session of the “Congress of Florence.” The session was held in the Salone dei Cinquecento, the hallowed hall scene to so many crucial moments in Florentine and Italian history. Surrounded by images of national glory, the delegates received their guidance from the king, stated explicitly in public for the first time: “together we will write a constitution.” Excited whispering and muttering promptly filled the imposing chamber. Cornaro, acting on the king’s behalf, then set out the rules. Each delegate was granted one vote for any matter that was put to an election. Francesco was to act as a guide to keep the delegates on track. There would be three writers: the king himself, representing the crown and the nobility; one representative from the clergy; one representative from the commons; and Cornaro, representing “the government.” The first order of business was to elect the writers themselves. After about an hour of deliberation, the delegates settled on their two choices. The clergy elected Paolo Segneri, a Jesuit preacher, missionary, and ascetical writer from outside Rome. He was widely known as a skillful orator, but Segneri also possessed a calm, steady demeanor (he wrote several popular books on meditation over the course of his career) and mastery of prose that made him perfectly suited for the job.


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Father Paolo Segneri, S.J.; one of the authors of the Italian constitution

For the commons, Spartaco Rinaldi and a few others complained mildly that Cornaro ought to represent them, as she was of common birth. On the other side, the astute nobleman Federico Mansi of Lucca wondered why a commoner (and a woman, no less) was representing their position. Once this issue was politely set aside, the commons settled on a quite good choice of their own: Giovan Battista Boccabadati of Modena. Boccabadati was a law professor at the university in his home city, a mathematician, an engineer, and a playwright. The Duke of Modena made him his librarian in 1671 and promoted him to board of the law school in 1673. At 41 years old, he was primed to transform from the role of rustic, provincial intellectual to a major figure on the national stage.

On Thursday 4 May, the delegates met again, with the king opening the day by declaring his intent to listen to them. He explained that he wished to write a draft of the constitution to then present to the delegations. For eight hours, beneath the hall’s master works by Giorgio Vasari, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci, the floor was opened for any representatives to ask for issues to be addressed. Many controversial matters were brought up, and the happy, friendly atmosphere of the opening ceremonies quickly dissipated. These issues ranged from succession laws to taxes on rice. The most contentious involved the numbers of delegates attending from each province. Proportional representation was not universally popular, and the smaller provinces voiced their displeasure. The king, weighing in personally, acknowledged the position of the small delegations, but claimed it was in the interest of best representing as many of his subjects as possible. Royal support lent more legitimacy to the idea of proportional representation, though it would remain a hot button issue for some time. Attentive scribes wrote all the questions, responses, and arguments down in carefully maintained ledgers. Francesco had his own notebook, as he too took furious notes on the proceedings. The entire process repeated the next day. At the end of this period, the king adjourned the congress for two days, setting the next session for Monday 8 May. The trio of writers, along with the king and the Archbishop of Florence, Cardinal Francesco Nerli, then retired to the Palazzo Vecchio’s Chapel of the Priors to write the first draft.

The five remained inside the chapel for the next two days. Only one person, Festo Gigante, the Palazzo Vecchio’s Sergeant-at-Arms, was allowed to bring the writers simple meals of lentil stew, bread, and water. The chapel was dedicated to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, the zealous preacher of holy war and a principal architect of the Second Crusade (he personally presented Conrad III of Germany and his nephew and eventual successor, Frederick Barbarossa, with their crusading crosses), whose relic accompanied the group. The presentation of these acts and symbols were carefully planned. This constitution might be the product of the new era of Enlightenment, but it was clearly coming into being with the approval of the church. That the constitution was being written in a chapel under the watchful eye of one of Italy’s most important cardinals, was not an accident. Neither was the fact that one of the writers was also a Jesuit. On Sunday morning 7 May, they all emerged from the chapel and walked out of the Palazzo Vecchio to the church of the abbey of Badìa Fiorentina. News began to spread that the king was inside hearing mass, and a crowd began to form. Delegates rushed out from their places of lodging, as Florentines crowded around to hear the news. Once the group emerged, escorted by Gigante, they walked south on Via del Proconsolo and through the Piazza San Firenze, where an even larger crowd met them. With at least several hundred people (by contemporary estimates) following behind him, the king jumped up onto the steps of the Palazzo San Firenze, which housed a church and the Saint Philip Neri oratory. He turned to the crowd and shouted, “we have written a document! Together, we will make it a constitution! Tomorrow we will present what we have.” The crowd responded with a roar and began chanting patriotic slogans and pro-Medici mottos.


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The Chapel of the Priors in the Palazzo Vecchio

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The façade of the Palazzo San Firenze

The next day, with the delegates reassembled in the Salone dei Cinquecento, a herald read the constitution aloud for all present. After an awed silence, excited conversations quickly ensued. What followed that were three weeks of spirited, raucous, and occasionally violent debate. These delegates, who would become the first class of parliamentarians, established new legislative traditions and set the precedents that would influence the future of the legislature.

The delegates were roughly representative of all the major classes, though of course not in proportionate numbers. About one third of them were nobles, ranging from the most powerful dukes to petty barons. About another third were priests and other religious figures, including monks. These too varied in terms of station. There were several bishops and archbishops along with a handful of humble parish priests. The other third was made up mostly of members of the professional classes, merchants, and non-aristocratic landowners. There were a few delegates from further down the social ladder, particularly among the Neapolitans. The delegation from Siena included among its number a man named simply Tibaldo, who was listed as a laborer. The delegation from Mantua featured a Vincenzo Mazzaturchi, whose wrote as his profession “Vagabond, OCG” (the acronym stood for Ordine dei Cavalieri di Gerusalemme, marking him as a veteran of the Great Crusade). However, these were the exception. The vast majority of the men there were wealthy and landed and influential.

Military men were well represented, as would be expected. The recently retired column commander, Raimondo Montecuccoli, whose illustrious military career stretched all the way back to the Conquest of Venice (1633-34), was a delegate for his native Modena. A pioneer of linear infantry tactics along with Grimaldi, Montecuccoli was one of King Francesco’s favorite officers. The Maltese delegation featured the Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller: Gregorio Carafa. There were several other veterans of the Great Crusade, though with less renown, among the delegates. There were several physicians in the group. Among them were Domenico Guglielmini of Bologna, and Isaac Chayyim Cantarini of Milan, who was also a poet and a rabbi. Both men were credited with writing numerous important medical texts of the time. None surpassed Marcello Malpighi of the Florentine delegation. Originally from Lazio, Malpighi was a respected member of the Accademia del Cimento and a leading intellectual figure in the capital. As a pioneering innovator in the fields of microscopical anatomy, histology, physiology, and embryology, he brought a natural scientists’ perspective to the conduct of government.


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Raimondo Montecuccoli

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Marcello Malpighi

There were women too. Cornaro, as the architect of the congress and favorite daughter of Venice, was invited to be the chairwoman of La Serenissima’s group, the only woman at the first session to head her delegation. There were two other women among the delegates as well. Prudenzia Spigarelli, a nun representing Siena, and Flavia Speranza, Countess of Pombia, an immensely wealthy Milanese widow whose gold funded Accademie, salons, and other learned societies. Religious minorities had their place too, though not without some grumbling by the Church. The delegation from Mantua included the Jewish poet and rabbinical scholar Immanuel Frances, one of the most strident opponents of the kabbalist and self-proclaimed Jewish Messiah, Shabbetai Ẓevi. The Protestant writer and satirist, Ezechiele d’Este, brother of the Duke of Ferrara, was also present.

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Flavia Speranza

These disparate people were able to come together, through an unseasonably hot Tuscan May, to craft a monumentally important document. They refined the draft down to ten articles that would form the foundation of the new government. On several occasions one or another delegation threatened to walk out. Unity within groups of provincial representatives also broke down. The Milanese (with 73 delegates) were soon at each other’s throats and the Neapolitans (with 72 delegates) were scheming with the other provinces against each other. Thus, instead of acting as mighty monoliths, the two largest delegations descended into bouts of insults and mutual recriminations. The same was largely true down the line. The only issue which largely saw delegates from the same provinces vote the same way was the matter of proportional representation. Otherwise, it was a free for all. Despite that, they got the job done, and the document this congress produced was of world-historical importance.

The Constitution began with a preamble. It was intended both as an introduction to the document and an explanation of how it was created. It did not assign powers. Instead, it reaffirmed that the authority of both the king and the congress came from a combination of the “will of God” and “the will of the people of Italy.” It granted official status to the “Congress of Florence” to act as the founding legislative meeting of the new government. The preamble set out the two primary goals. First, “to form a more perfect Catholic Kingdom” that provided “freedom, protection, and wellbeing to all subjects, as was Christ’s intention.” Second, to “secure the blessings of liberty and prosperity”, which included rights to do business at home and abroad.

Article I described the structure of the government, establishing the King of Italy as the sovereign and executive, advised by a legislature called the parlamento. An informal, vaguely defined third branch was also created consisting of “judicial and ecclesiastical authorities” (i.e. the Church and the courts). This established one of the foundational conflicts of the early constitutional era, as angry clashes over judicial authority brought multiple parts of the government to the brink of crisis over the coming decades.

Article II pronounced explicitly that Italy was a Catholic kingdom, “adhering to the Universal, Apostolic, and Holy Church of Rome.” It recognized the Pope as the final arbiter on all religious matters and reserved for Rome the right to all religious appointments. Article II also guaranteed all lands held by the Church to be inviolable and exempt from taxes. It recognized the Papally-bestowed honorific of “Defender of the Faith” as part of the king’s title, adding explicitly that the king was “at liberty to deploy the armed forces of the kingdom in the defense of the interests of the Church.” Those words would prove ominous in the not-too-distant future. For all his embrace of the Enlightenment, and even his sympathy for agnostic and atheist thinkers, the King of Italy remained a loyal and dedicated son of the Church. He wanted to appease the papacy and win Rome’s support for his new political endeavor. He and Cornaro did, however, manage to protect the rights of religious minorities with one crucially important clause. This final, one sentence paragraph of the article stated: “Adherents of the Protected Religions shall be free to worship unconditionally, guaranteed in their possession of their religious houses, and free to construct new religious edifices with the consent of the crown.” There were four original “Protected Religions”: Judaism, Lutheranism, Unitarianism, and “the Eastern Church”. This last designation was meant as a catchall for all the rites of the Orthodox Church. Conveniently, it was soon interpreted to include Maronites, Copts, Armenians, and other Christian minorities in the newly conquered lands of Egypt and Palestine. Notably absent, on the other hand, were Muslims and Calvinists, another matter that would come to a head sooner rather than later.

Article III stated the powers delegated to the Crown and the legislature, respectively. Financially, the legislature had the power to tax, borrow money, pay debt, and administer the patent office. They could also regulate commerce, bankruptcies, and the minting of coins. Any enterprise that sought a government charter for a new colonial venture had to petition parliament first. On the other hand, it had no power to regulate and govern military forces, either on land or at sea. These remained the preserves of the War Ministry and the Foreign Ministry (specifically, the admiralty) and, by extension, the king. The respective ministries also kept control of the forts and arsenals. If the parlamento wanted to block military funding through its control of the purse strings, it had to justify the denial to the king in writing and vote to block the money with a two-thirds supermajority. Even if this succeeded, there were other ways for the king to pay for war. In summary, this constitution would in no way restrict Francesco’s ability to conduct foreign policy as he saw fit. Also of note, the Crown retained the power “to define and punish piracies and offenses against the Law of Nations, to declare war and make rules of war.” The Interior Ministry also retained authority over standards of weights and measures, post offices, and roads.

Article IV established the rules for the parlamento. The legislature was divided into two chambers: the senate, or senato, and the Chamber of Deputies, or Camera dei Deputati (or, even more simply, Camera). Senators were to be appointed by the king for life. Article IV, Paragraph C, Section 2 includes a list of offices from which senators could be chosen: Archbishops, Ministers of the State, Ambassadors and Special Envoys, High Officials of the Mints, Generals, Admirals, Members of Accademie, Deans of universities, and other citizens who have distinguished themselves through their services, achievements and contributions.” Royal Princes were members of the Senate by right from the age of 21 onward. By Royal decree, the Senate could be empowered to sit as a High Court of Justice to judge crimes of high treason and other crimes against national security, and to judge ministers accused by the Chamber of Deputies. No senator could be arrested without an order of the Senate, except when they were apprehended in flagrante delicto. The Senate had the sole authority to judge its members, and was also responsible for archiving royal births, marriages, and deaths. Ultimately, it was meant to be the chamber that protected the monarchy and kept a check on any runaway power by the people.

The members of the Camera dei Deputati were popularly elected. They were chosen from their constituencies in conformity with local law. Deputies were required to be Italian subjects, at least 24 years old, and not convicted of a capital crime. Deputies were elected for at least five years, unless the parlamento was dissolved before then. The chamber elected its own President, Vice-President, and Secretaries at the beginning of each session for its entire duration. If a Deputy ceased, for whatever reason, to fulfill his functions, new elections were required to be held in his constituency as soon as possible. Deputies had similar protections to senators, but only while serving during a session of the parlamento. When the legislature was not in session, deputies lost their immunities. No Deputy could be arrested while the Chamber was in session, except when apprehended in flagrante delicto, nor could he be brought before a court in a criminal proceeding without the prior consent of the Chamber. A Deputy could not be arrested for indebtedness while the Chamber was in session, nor during the month immediately preceding and following a session. The Chamber had the right to impeach the King's Ministers and bring them to trial before the High Court of Justice, which was the Senate.

Article V attempted to define the courts and their role in the kingdom, though it really left their powers unclear. It vaguely stated that the courts “have the authority to pass judgments upon laws spiritual or temporal, as necessary.” Attempts at a tighter definition, however, had become intractable debates at the Congress, thus it remained vague with ratification. Instead, it would be left to the three branches to fight over this definition of power among themselves. For example, what authority did a local town magistrate have to annul laws or waive their enforcement? What role did the Church play as a whole? Could the Inquisition strike down a law passed by the parlamento? What about proclamations by the king? Too broad a reading meant that both the crown and the parliament were under Church jurisdiction. Surely this was not the intent. But where did authority truly lie? These questions would only be answered in the years to come, as back and forth challenges played out in the capital and across the country.

Article VI defined treason: an overt act of making war or materially helping those at war with the Kingdom of Italy. On the other hand, it also specified that political disagreements would not be considered treason. This formally recognized limited freedom of speech, the legitimacy of nonviolent resistance to the government because simple opposition to policies was no longer punishable by death. This article was soon to take on a larger role as well in the years to come, as protests and mobs tested the limits of their newly won freedom of speech.

Article VII outlined relations among the provinces and between each province and the crown. It is significant in its omissions: it said extraordinarily little on the subject and implemented no real changes. One of the expectations of many contemporaries at the opening of the Congress of Florence was that a constitution would address the wildly disparate local and provincial government structures that existed throughout Italy. As a result of the historical process of unification, which included areas gained through conquest, acquisitions through treaties, inheritance, and voluntary union, every province had its own governing apparatus. Even elections to the Camera were to be governed by local, not national, rules, as stated in Article IV. Some provinces, like Modena, Mantua, and Verona, were still ruled as duchies or marquisates, with a ruler who was officially a vassal of the king and in practice served as a sort of hereditary provincial governor. Florence, Venice, Genoa, Siena, and Lucca were formally autonomous “republics” whose rights were guaranteed by treaties and tradition. The south had remained largely unchanged in terms of local government and the legacy of feudalism largely persisted just as it did under the old Kingdom of Naples. A more modern, unified structure was built on top of these older, local ones, but the day-to-day experience of the average person was affected much more by their local condition than by policies formulated in the realm’s capital. Neither the king nor the delegates had the stomach to wade into such minutia. As a result, local governing structures were simply ignored and left in place, though they were given general limitations. In all cases, rights explicitly described in the constitution could not be undone by local decree. Following in that same vein, Article VIII established the Constitution, and all royal laws and treaties as the supreme law of the land. It instructed that “judges in every province shall be bound to uphold royal laws, passed with the consent of the parlamento and according to the will of God, above all others.” Article IX outlined the process for amending the Constitution, requiring two thirds of all provinces (not just those represented in the legislature) to consent to it.

The writers saved their most radical article for last. Article X, entitled “Il Manifesto sui Diritti” enumerated a series of rights and protections guaranteed to every subject. They were:

1. All subjects have the right to petition the king.

2. No subject may be imprisoned, entrapped, or otherwise constrained unless convicted of a criminal offense in a fair trial. Furthermore, no subject may be fined nor any of their property seized or forfeited unless convicted of a criminal offense in a fair trial.

3. Excessive bail shall not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

4. Subjects cannot be compelled to join the standing army nor to quarter troops in time of peace unless it be with the consent of the parlamento.

5. Catholics may keep and carry arms for their defense. The right to establish local militias for mutual aid and defense shall not be infringed.

6. The election of the delegates to the parlamento shall be free and fair.

7. The freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in the parlamento cannot be impeached or restricted in any court or place outside its own chambers.

8. For the redress of all grievances, and for the amending, strengthening, and preserving of the laws, regular meetings of the parlamento shall not be obstructed or otherwise prevented.

9. Being necessary to the wellbeing of the kingdom, the free flow of commerce and trade shall not be infringed.

10. All taxes must be approved by the parlamento.

The importance of Article X cannot be understated. It fundamentally transformed social and political life in Italy, enshrining new rights for all levels of society and making even the most destitute citizen entitled to protection from the government (at least on paper). The Manifesto introduced a profound idea: that a person was entitled to protection as a subject/citizen per se, not dependent on their status as a property owner. In the feudal system, rights and privileges came from land. Under the new regime, rights were enshrined in one’s very humanity. It represented a triumphant victory for Enlightenment thought and its championing of individual rights, rationalism, and freedom of conscience. It won acclaim across the continent for Francesco II and the other pioneers of the Italian constitution.

Despite these advances, the constitution, as written and ratified in the spring of 1676, remained an imperfect document. In many ways, it posed as many questions as it answered. Which courts, exactly, could lawfully imprison someone? What was the status of enslaved people? What exactly did the promise to “protect free trade” mean and just how far were Italy’s merchants going to push this idea? How did the old feudal arrangements, so prominent still in much of the country, apply now? What about guilds? These vitally important matters would be settled in the years and decades to come, with all the controversy, dislocation, and, in many cases, bloodshed normally associated with such momentous political shifts. The rights and protections promised would not be universally upheld. With a long view of history, the Constitution of 1676 was a pivotal document in the history of Western civilization, on par with England’s Magna Carta of 1215, and helped usher in a new era of individual freedoms in Europe. However, the chaos and instability created by its vague points and contradicting directives caused significant difficulties for Italy in the short and medium term. It was a document created by people who were just beginning to understand the finer points of representative government on a grand scale.


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The Constitution.

Throughout Wednesday 31 May, word spread through the capital of an important proclamation to be read in Piazza del Popolo the following day. Messengers went out into the countryside, inviting all to attend. At dawn on 1 June, an enormous new royal flag was unrolled down the center of the Palazzo Vecchio. Its basic design remained the same: a red field carrying a white rhombus and a green square in the middle of the white rhombus. However, in a master stroke of Medici opportunism, the king had taken the opportunity to replace the eagle adorning the center with the Medici coat of arms. When the first royal flag was adopted in 1617, the humbler Alberto I had not seen fit to plaster his family crest on the national emblem, opting for a more generic golden eagle instead. Francesco II, with legacy and dynastic prestige always top of mind, decided to use the fact that he voluntarily bestowed a bevy of rights and privileges on his people in exchange for a personal vanity. All in all, a rather harmless exchange (the golden eagle would not die off, however, as it remained on the flag of the army). To start the day, the king met all the delegates at the entrance of the Palazzo Pitti. They were then invited in for an extravagant breakfast that included several courses, piles of roasted meats, fish brought upriver from the sea, typical Florentine pastries, and, to the delight of all present, including Antonio Bandinelli, a parliamentarian from Lucca, “sumptuous, rare, and exotic delights from the newly conquered lands.”

By mid-morning, across the river, a steady stream of people flowed into the square outside the Palazzo Vecchio. The king and the delegates then made their way to the venerable government building via the Vasari Corridor and then into the Salone dei Cinquecento. Here, the king swore them in as the first class of deputati. Twenty-five minutes before noon, Giovan Battista Boccabadati, just elected by those same delegates first Chairman of the camera, appeared at one of the second story windows of the Palazzo Vecchio’s Audience Chamber facing out onto the piazza. The eyes of the assembled audience, boasting enough people to easily overflow the square, turned to the Modenese lawyer. Then, a hush fell over the crowd as King Francesco II appeared next to him, both men waving down to the crowd. The king then disappeared from the window, leaving Boccabadati to address the masses. As the sweltering Florentine sun beat down on the square with not a wisp of wind to cool those filling it, the Chairman said what most of them had gone to here: that this was the “dawn of a new era of freedom and humanity.” He declared that Italy had always been a leader in advancing free government, citing the Roman Republic of Antiquity, the Medieval communes, the Venetian Republic, and Florence’s own republican history, and that this was the next step in that historic process. When he completed his eloquent address, the crowd erupted in cheers, alternately chanting patriotic and Medici slogans. Then, the popular stage actor, Gianbattista Melchiori, appeared next to Boccabadati. Using his smooth, booming voice, he read the constitution aloud, in its entirety. When this was finished, the parliamentarians emerged from the Palazzo Vecchio to mingle with the jubilant crowd.


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The Proclamation of 1 June (1676) established the Constitution.

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The new flag of Italy

The celebrations that accompanied the Proclamation were as joyous as any in the history of Florence. The streets of the capital were thronged. “Whore houses, casinos, salons, inns, osterie, and any other business that hosts guests, are packed with revelers,” observed Archimede Terrizzi, a local silk merchant. “All men are brothers now!” proclaimed a particularly optimistic and drunk Florentine monk from the top of Giotto’s Bell Tower in the Piazza del Duomo. The potenze and other carnival societies joined in, adding to the festive atmosphere. All through the hot, humid Florentine night, people drank and sang and talked in the streets and on balconies. “Everywhere, high and low-born are calling each other ‘citizen!’ and ‘brother!’” observed Terrizzi. An extravagant fireworks display lit up the sky over the Arno as people danced along both banks of the river. All through the day of 2 June, the festivities continued. In the afternoon, the deputati and the rest of the populace were treated to two games of Calcio Fiorentino in Piazza Santa Maria Novella. The king himself participated in the first, playing for his own Santo Spirito Bianchi side against the San Giovanni Verdi, the Medici’s ancestral side, led by his brother, Girolamo. Francesco acquitted himself well, despite suffering an ankle injury early on and ending the match with a bloodied mouth. San Giovanni won the day in a thrilling match, with Prince Girolamo scoring the winning goal as time expired. The second game featured Italy’s most celebrated calcio player: 22-year-old Candido Cavalcanti of the Santa Croce Azzuri. Cavalcanti did not disappoint, leading his team in a thrashing of the San Giovanni Rossi, breaking two opponents’ limbs in the process.

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Fireworks over the Arno

On 3 June, once the once the city’s celebrations began to slow down, the members of parliament (several still visibly intoxicated) reassembled in the Palazzo Vecchio for their first day of deliberations. The king was already waiting for them. According to Bandinelli, “His Majesty appeared as fresh faced as if he had just returned from Montecatini” (a Tuscan town known for its therapeutic salt baths). Rodrigo De Rienzo, now a parliamentarian representing Florence, did offer a more realistic assessment, noting the king’s lip was still a bit swollen from the injury sustained in the previous day’s match, though still noting the king appeared energetic. Francesco II made a special proclamation opening the session of parliament and naming delegates as the first class of deputies in the chamber. He also appointed a hastily assembled senate. This included the foreign, interior, and war ministers (Veneroso, Cornaro, and Toscani, respectively); his brother, Prince Girolamo; and Cardinal Nerli.

In terms of political tradition and culture, the transition to a constitutional monarchy was easier in Italy than it would be elsewhere, such as in Austria in the following decade. Despite being largely dormant on the national level, the kingdom was home to numerous local legislative bodies. These still-dynamic, often-ancient institutions remained important battlegrounds for local ordnances, tax policies, and other matters. Vestiges of Italy’s pre-unification days, when the peninsula was filled with a motley assortment of city states and petty duchies, they had long kept political engagement alive. Florence’s own Assembly had continued to operate uninterrupted for centuries, though now they only legislated city tariffs, the number of livestock that one could keep within the walls, how late the market stalls could stay open, tolls for ferries and bridges across the Arno, etc, etc. The other former city states of Tuscany, Siena and Lucca, had their own similar chambers. On occasion, these assemblies even succeeded in influencing Italian history. In 1587, for instance, the Tuscan republics had shifted the political winds decisively in favor of another Francesco (the eventual Grand Duke Francesco I) and against Grand Duchess Isabella in the regency crisis following the mental incapacitation of Grand Duke Filippo I. In Venice, the Maggior Consiglio, which dated back to 1143, arguably had the greatest and most consistent practical impact both in Italy and beyond. In addition to any national tariffs imposed on goods by the crown, the Consiglio maintained the right to add their own Venetian tariffs and fees on top of everything else. Because Venice was the main entrepot of goods into the kingdom, decisions to raise tariffs on coffee, for example, and decrease them on tea, could have ripple effects across global markets. Genoa’s council, formalized in 1528, had a similar, though significantly lesser influence. Thus, the infrastructure for a successful transition to constitutionalism already existed at the roots of the society. It was less a matter of creating a new civil society and more one of reviving and modernizing the Renaissance-era political institutions.

The first ever issue brought up for debate in the Parlamento had to do with the granting of colonial charters. This was an important and, procedurally, non-controversial issue. The granting of charters gave the legislature power, as their support was now necessary and coveted by the big trading houses. In accordance with Article III, the crown granted and guaranteed colonial ventures, but they all required the approval of parliament before going to the king. The crown still reserved final say on any expeditions (they were, after all, staking out land on behalf of the entire realm). Every charter issued by the crown granted a certain company or group the right to claim territory on Italy’s behalf. They were expected to administer the land and develop it. However, what exactly qualified as development was left vague and this is where controversy did arise. In the Italian North American colonies, a society of independent yeoman farmers coexisted (mostly) peacefully with local natives. In the Caribbean, on the other hand, both native Caribs and independent farmers were being bankrupted and pushed off their land by the large plantations. These extraordinary moneymakers, particularly those producing sugar, ran on the fuel of enslaved labor and made a select few very rich. From across Italy’s Caribbean possessions came reports of attacks by armed men employed by the plantations against Carib villages. The crown liked to publicly celebrate “the rugged spirit of Italian independence” of the mainland colonists of New Italy (one propaganda pamphlet from the period likened them to the Etruscan heroes of antiquity who first settled Tuscany), but the government’s money spoke louder. For every frigate patrolling the Delaware Bay, there were nine cruising the waters around Santa Lucia and Guadelupe. The mainland settlements at Weehawken, Santa Matilde, and Nuova Arca were surrounded by wooden palisades and guarded by local volunteer militias. The Caribbean cities of Forte Della Palma and Forte d’Italia were protected by masterfully built stone walls bristling with guns and guarded by sentries in gleaming white uniforms.

There were three charter proposals that had passed initial review at the foreign ministry. Two were of no issue and passed quickly. The first was a petition by the colonists in Nuova Arca to send an expedition to explore upriver along the Delaware to the river’s headwaters and, if possible, establish settlements there. The two American-born frontiersman, Napoleone Bonica and Mario Sinacore, were in their ancestral mother land for the first time. Men of little education and fewer words, all they left behind from their trip were ledgers of travel expenses and charts of the proposed new colony. One wonders what they must have thought Florence’s majestic sites and of the political tumult of the moment. The pair asked for a modest sum to outfit their men and to purchase supplies for the trip. The members of the camera spent most of the time asking the two Americans questions about their far-off home before quickly approving their request. The second petition was from a group Jesuits to establish a missionary colony near the mouth of the Ogooué River in the region known as Gabon, just north of the Kingdom of Kongo. The Kongolese had long been receptive to Catholicism dating back to their first contact with Portuguese explorers centuries earlier. The nobility had even taken up the custom of using Iberian names, the best example being the reigning monarch: Garcia II. The Church was eager to secure the conversion of this immense African kingdom that stretched deep into the interior, far beyond the knowledge of Europeans. The Jesuits wanted to establish a base from which to help convert Garcia’s subjects, reasoning with sound logic that the more his people embraced the faith, the easier it became for their ruler to do so as well. This expedition was likewise uncontroversial. That the Italian relationship with Kongo, soon to be established by these very same Jesuit missionaries, would one day serve as a key causus belli in a major war between Italy and Great Britain did not cross the minds of any of the assembled delegates.

The most prominent and controversial expedition applying for a charter was one funded by the increasingly powerful Compagnia della Guinea. The target was a swath of land around the mouth of the Santee River, largest river delta on the east coast, and just south of the British colony of Long Bay. Led by the experienced New World soldier and explorer, Gioventino Balbi, it was sold to the king as a project to halt the southward expansion of the British North American colonies. However, the Compagnia’s true motives were far more sinister. Already in possession of the monopoly on the slave trade between West Africa and the Italian Indies, the company now sought to establish their own plantations in the humid subtropical climate of the southern Atlantic coast. Slavery did not exist in the colonial state of New Italy so authorizing this charter came with an implicit expansion of the slave regime. The institution was pervasive in Italy’s Caribbean colonies, but even the powerful planters opposed the Santee expedition. They feared the Compagnia’s growing power and wealth, viewing this gambit as a dangerous end around that threatened their very existence. The company could sell the people they captured and enslaved in Africa to their own plantations for a fraction of the cost and then put all the Caribbean planters out of business. Santee was to be the test case. If it succeeded, the rest of the uncolonized Atlantic Coast, from Virginia to the Scottish border, could be next. Clearly the business squabbles of flamboyantly dressed merchants in faraway Florence and Venice mattered little to those whose lives were consumed by the endless, deadly drudgery of plantation labor. But for the moment, gold spoke louder than any calls for freedom, and there were waves of it washing in from the trade in human lives. The Compagnia was ready and able to buy its first parliamentary victory.


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The Santee River Delta, future site of the
Colonia dei Santi

Still, there was hefty opposition. Most of the areas dependent on trade with the east, such as Genoa, Ferrara, and Milan opposed the bill, with the Venetians leading most of the opposition. This not to say that all the deputati from those regions voted in lock step, but the bulk of the opposition bloc came from those provinces. There was also the still small, yet growing anti-slavery movement, which opposed the colony on the grounds of the expansion of slavery to the North American mainland, which they considered illegal. Still, the Compagnia had the crown as an ally. Cornaro knew that passing the first act brought up in the chamber was of vital importance for the legitimacy off the legislature. The king supported it as well. He sensed a growing rivalry with Great Britain, a state positioning herself as the leading Protestant power and, thus, a natural rival to Italy. He was eager to halt their southward expansion on the Atlantic coast. Cornaro deftly maneuvered enough political support to win the day for her king. She convinced members of the Genovese group in exchange for promises of diplomatic support to the city’s overseas trade missions, thus fulfilling at least part of their demand for greater engagement with Asian markets. She won over parliamentarians from the Bolognese delegation with offers of government jobs and the Ferrarese with the opening up of crown lands for hunting and farming. The Milanese delegation was handsomely bribed by the Compagnia.

After a week of maneuvering and debate, the proposal passed by a healthy margin of 202-163. Chairman Boccabadati signed the document and then a courier delivered it to the senate where it was approved unanimously later that day. A second courier then took the bill to the Francesco II’s office in the Palazzo Vecchio, while another messenger (these messenger jobs would quickly evolve into a professionalized and formalized system of communication between the two chambers and with the crown) alerted the king himself. The monarch finished the process by signing the bill and affixing his seal to it. Thus completed, the new constitutional regime passed its first legislative act.

The creation of the constitution was Elena Cornaro Piscopia at her most brilliant. Already a legendary figure, she shepherded the constitution into being, building on a career of improving life for the average Italian subject. She maintained the support of city dwellers for the crown by keeping them fed and housed as best as possible. The national surge in literacy was a credit to her Sunday schools initiative. She delegated power effectively to her bureaucracy and appointed competent men to staff the local offices. “I thought I worked for the interior ministry,” commented Ariosto Papalia, Chief Clerk of the Ancona office, “but based on the tasks we receive, it is more like the army.” She kept her civil servants working hard, and as long as they were paid well, corruption remained a real, but manageable risk. Now, she had served as the field general executing King Francesco’s grand vision of enlightened government. Her king enjoyed yet another windfall of popularity and praise across the continent. After the twin triumphs of the Great Crusade and the constitution, Italy appeared poised for a golden age.

However, all was not in order. While the constitution enhanced the power and prestige of middle classes, the lower three quarters of the peasantry would see only minor improvements to life. It was true that the constitution changed the legal system in ways that further protected peasants from outright predation at the hands of the aristocracy. Sharecroppers, for example, could go to a magistrate and report extortionary demands from their landlords. Assuming they were Catholic, they were allowed to bear arms, if they could afford them. Still, as has mostly been the case in history, more meritocracy did not result in more equitable distribution of resources. Tenants owned no property and thus had a harder time accumulating savings or increasing their wealth. Sure, the most well-off peasant families could buy their way into aristocratic circles, and otherwise attain high levels of wealth and prestige. However, for those at the bottom, life did not change all too much in a material sense.

The current of history moves in curious ways. Over the first decade of his rule, Francesco II appeared nearly infallible. He vaulted seemingly without effort from the overwhelming victory over the previously invincible Turks to bestowing the great gift of a constitution upon his subjects. The government ministries were led by visionary figures and staffed by competent bureaucrats and officials. The army was battle hardened and expertly commanded. The navy was the envy of the world. The treasury was overflowing with gold while warehouses in every port in the realm were full of goods just imported and ready to be shipped for export. Yet, the bounteous rewards of the constitution would not be shared equally, inflaming underlying tensions across the society. The newly conquered lands, thought to be pacified and well in hand, soon boiled over with lingering (and well justified) resentments. For these reasons, Francesco’s second decade on the thrown would prove as challenging and dangerous as the first was triumphant and glorious. Instead of a stretch of greatness, Italy was about to enter a catastrophic period that would nearly undo everything her king and her people had built.


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The Salone dei Cinquecento was the main chamber of the Italian parliament
 
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