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Two soon to be constitutional monarchies, the first great colonial empires, one protestant, one Catholic. One ancient, focused on the Mediterranean. One new, positioned to dominant global trade.

Who will win? Only one way to find out...and this new era of colonialism being more valuable than owning bits of europe may well save France from being smashed from all sides (because they are far too large and unwieldy at the moment).


New European alliances need to be established for the colonial age, but also to reflect the size and power of a few European kingdoms over their neighbours.

Italy and the UK have competing spheres of influence and are ideologically opposed. They are going to war, and war constantly, for as long as both are in the amercias. The UK should hold the advantage (they have better and more ships, and can focus far more on colonial matters than the Italians) but you are the PC, so if not total victory, should be able to push them into non-competing spheres (split north America between them, decide the slave trade between them etc). Problem is, it'll start up again when they try to find trade routes around Africa (such as the Congo etc).

Third, the peasants are going to revolt at least one last time, probably with some help from the middle classes, to finally sweep away noblesse oblige and get their own rights. Unfortunate for the crown and govermebt, which is compromised still mostly of nobles and high church peoples, they can't so easily back this movement as they could in the constitution. This is a huge brewing crisis Italy can ill afford (especially as their rival GB is infamously stable at home [unless you have a RNG curve ball help you out?]). At best, lots of civil strife and slow drip to modern rights and removal of privileges. At worst? A few civil wars.

So, in summary, several huge wars coming abroad, several huge wars coming at home, all the while the rest of Europe is realigning to an enlightenment age, where you don't ally based on religion but on cash and empire.
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Bravo! Always a special day when we get a new update for this masterpiece. A new constitution and a new parliament, Italy must truly be the most modern state in Europe, truly a beacon of enlightenment values.

I hope it doesn't sound mean but the talk of difficult times ahead has whetted my appetite. The struggles and troubles times of an AAR often make the most stimulating reading! ;)

The Americas will be Italian!

hot take: England wins the Colonial wars in the long run, forcing Italy to have a humiliating retreat from the Americas save for few important holdings. Thus forcing Italy to focus more on "Mare Nostrum" after its Colonial empire in the Americas was taken from them. Possibly with an aim of complete Conquest of Greek lands, North Africa and Egypt.

Third, the peasants are going to revolt at least one last time, probably with some help from the middle classes, to finally sweep away noblesse oblige and get their own rights. Unfortunate for the crown and govermebt, which is compromised still mostly of nobles and high church peoples, they can't so easily back this movement as they could in the constitution. This is a huge brewing crisis Italy can ill afford (especially as their rival GB is infamously stable at home [unless you have a RNG curve ball help you out?]). At best, lots of civil strife and slow drip to modern rights and removal of privileges. At worst? A few civil wars.

I myself wish the Sicilian influence on the Monarchy will cause eventual rise of a enlightened rulership within the Kingdom. And that the ruling class after breaking the back of silly things such as Liberty and Equality, embrace the great chain of being and liberate the peasants under the wise rulership of a king.

An impressive step for the Italian empire, though as @TheButterflyComposer pointed out, this opens up so many avenues for internal and external turmoil. Though it must be said, the potential is there for Italy to become much wealthier still thanks to it's free trade policies, more meritocratic governance, and sprawling Empire. All it has to do is survive the coming storms unscathed, and come out on the other side with a much clarified constitution and a mostly intact empire. Especially the clear separation of legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government is incomplete as of yet.

Once again, beautifully written and researched, with plenty of historical flavour.
Wouldn't someone who was convicted of a capital crime be dead?

Hmm, good point. Well, for what it's worth, I copied and pasted that from the constitution of one of the Napoleonic Italian republics, so you'll have to take it up with them.

Third, the peasants are going to revolt at least one last time, probably with some help from the middle classes, to finally sweep away noblesse oblige and get their own rights. Unfortunate for the crown and govermebt, which is compromised still mostly of nobles and high church peoples, they can't so easily back this movement as they could in the constitution. This is a huge brewing crisis Italy can ill afford

I myself wish the Sicilian influence on the Monarchy will cause eventual rise of a enlightened rulership within the Kingdom. And that the ruling class after breaking the back of silly things such as Liberty and Equality, embrace the great chain of being and liberate the peasants under the wise rulership of a king.

Though it must be said, the potential is there for Italy to become much wealthier still thanks to it's free trade policies, more meritocratic governance, and sprawling Empire. All it has to do is survive the coming storms unscathed, and come out on the other side with a much clarified constitution and a mostly intact empire.

I am glad the class conflict parts were appreciated. Because of the way Italy has developed in the game, I am trying to strike a balance between class development in real history (mostly based on the UK as an analogue) and coming up with some new dynamics. I think Italy presents a good canvas for this because, both in-game and in real history, she was a mostly-agrarian economy but with an unusually large urban population. There were the wealthy, influential merchants who did have a sort of proto-class identity. What did not truly develop in real Italian history was the wealthy, non-noble rural population with a distinct class consciousness. I had to figure out a way to essentially eliminate the nobility as a power because the game removes their estate, leaving only the burghers and the clergy. To answer @TheButterflyComposer above, the clergy will remain as a powerful force, so they will not lose anything from this. As for the nobility in government, they have already started to be replaced by the lower orders for some time. Even in less urbanized states, such as Louis XIV's France, most government officials did not come from the nobility but rather from the professional or merchant classes and any titles received were tied to their office (the noblesse de robe). One thing I am trying to avoid is to make a good vs evil story out of it, particularly avoiding a middle classes = progress = good narrative. To me, one of the most fascinating things about the early modern period is how it forces us to rethink things we take for granted in our current world and how often seemingly minor events had far-reaching and unintended consequences. It makes us to look at the costs of creating the very institutions that affect our lives today and, in many cases, forces us to reckon with their moral costs. While I generally enjoyed reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle, for example, my main critique is that his worldview embodies this very dichotomy. In his books, it is Protestantism/Great Britain/Freedom/Progress against Catholicism/France/Slavery/Decadence. This is, first of all, bullshit (just as one example, plantation slavery became more, not less, horrific thanks to British/American efficiency, progress, and innovation). Second, it prevents us from having to acknowledge the costs of how we built our current world. All the bad things that happened back then happened because of bad guys. And the good guys were always the good guys doing good guy things. The reality is that even the good things had a cost. We can think the Industrial Revolution was, at the end of the day, good and necessary (indeed, I think it would be quite difficult to find any sizable number of people really willing to go back to pre-industrial living), but we should also be able to look at it and acknowledge that many, many people were exploited, suffered, and died as a result. It wasn't just some triumphant march. Why did @Casko 's peasants support the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and its Bourbon monarchy against the allegedly freedom-bringing revolutionaries? Anyway, I will get off my soapbox now and just add that I plan to inject much more of this going forward.

Aside from negotiating the transition from feudalism to market capitalism, one of the main delays to my writing more of this AAR has been spending too much time playing CKIII. I happened to have a run of astoundingly good luck in an iron man game (started as Alfonso VI of León in 1066), which in turn led to a rather successful outcome. I am up to 1436 and have pretty much maxed out achievements for this game (I just gave a bunch of my kids independent kingdoms to unlock the "What Nepotism?" achievement). So, at least until the next major CKIII expansion, I think I have had my fill of the Medieval for now.

If anyone is interested, I certainly won't miss the opportunity to brag:


Persia, Khorasan, Bavaria, the HRE, Daylam, and Britannia are the realms I just gave away to my kids. They were until just recently also part of the empire. Syria is an independent Catholic kingdom.

Thanks for reading.
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For Italy in the long run, they would be much better served focusing on Europe and building a continental empire, securing the Med and maybe expanding Africa and Middle East outwards. They are never going to be able to compete with the Atlantic Coast colonial empires at the colonial game, so why bother? Take over Europe instead, rebuild Rome and leave the rest of the world to the British.
Chapter 61: Years of Lead, 1676-1678


History shows that the waves that appear destined to carry a nation to greatness can change course quickly and unexpectedly. The current that seemed to lift the ship of state, suddenly threaten to batter her against a reef. While most of Italy celebrated new rights and the arrival of constitutional government, the jubilation was not universal. The victory of the Holy League over the Ottoman Empire in the Great Crusade and the subsequent creation of a more representative regime did not usher in a period of prosperity and civility for the Kingdom of Italy. There was to be no Golden Age of Catholic friendship and cooperation in Europe. In both cases, the effect of the war was quite the opposite. Instead of a golden age, Italy was to experience the so-called Years of Lead. A period of stagnation, rebellion, and dysfunction. These crises halted Italian ascension as they were an anchor stuck on a reef. halted the Italian ship of state like an anchor stuck on a reef. Two decades of stability and good feelings, started under the reign of Gian Gastone I, came crashing down just as the kingdom prepared to reap the fruits of her new government and imperial stature. The yearnings for territorial expansion and new trade routes, held so dear by the Italian ruling classes, were to be put on hold as economic retrenchment, corruption, and open rebellion tore across the realm. Those for whom Florentine rule represented little more than repression and subjugation cared little for flowery documents written in the posh, far-off capital. From the headwaters of the Po to the Nile Valley to the Niger Delta, those set to miss out on the bounties provided by Italian imperial expansion were not prepared to meekly stand aside. Their voices and demands would rock the kingdom to its very foundations. Florence had, perhaps, overreached, and now she was to pay a price for her ambitions.

That this period of instability and hardship came so quickly and so suddenly was surprising to contemporaries, though present-day historians, with the benefit of hindsight, understand it better. It was certainly not unprecedented in Florentine history. At the end of the Fifteenth Century, following Machiavelli’s masterful diplomatic maneuvering and a decisive victory in the First Italian War, the Republic of Florence became the central actor in Italy and appeared poised to dominate the peninsula. However, internal contradictions, coupled with socio-economic ferment led to Savonarola’s revolution, plunging the republic into civil conflict, and arresting her rise to power by at least a generation. Only the establishment of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and the Medici as the ruling dynasty resumed the city’s rise to power. This time, the threat was not to be primarily focused at the imperial core, but rather at the periphery, as myriad groups prepared to release their justified resentments at the same time. Some of these were hot, burning hatreds as in Muslim Egyptians’ attitudes toward their new conquerors. Others were more muted, but nevertheless powerful resentments stored up over decades, like those of the normally steadfast and loyal Cretans.

The Great Crusade had heaped mountains of prestige and treasure upon Italy for her leading role in the struggle. She had led the fractious coalition to success beyond even the most partisan Catholics’ wildest dreams. Italy’s king had become a household name across Europe, with novellas spinning fanciful tales of his swashbuckling adventures in the Holy Land in print in cities as far flung as Stockholm, Hamburg, Bordeaux (in France there were also similar stories published about Louis XX), and even as far afield as Santa Lucia and Lima. He was, in modern parlance, a “brand.” There were other crusader kings, but the long, slow, relentless march through the Balkans and Anatolia did not bring the same excitement as a daring raid into the Holy Land to capture Christendom’s most sacred city. Furthermore, Italy appeared to be the top military power in Europe. Her army emerged from the crusade as a massive, powerful, well-led force, capable of facing on any opponent. With over 75,000 men under arms, a well-oiled logistical network, and the money to pay for it all, few powers dared stand in her way. Yet, internally, the army had significant issues that would come to light in the not-too-distant future. For the time being, however, the steady hand of Ginevra Toscani helped paper these over. The esprit de corps that the Great Crusade developed even among newer units, inculcated a sense of pride that would limit, though certainly not stop, desertions and defections in the coming, difficult years.



The Italian army emerged from the Great Crusade as a powerful, cohesive force; these would be seriously challenged in the coming years

The leading intellectuals of Europe hailed Italy and her king as models of enlightened government. The great Gottfried Wilhelm Liebniz wrote in 1676, following the Proclamation of 1 June, that Francesco II was “already one of the greatest kings that ever was.” Italy’s monarch certainly seemed unaware of the coming storm. Overseas, he underestimated the level of anger the Christian invasion had left in its wake. As was typical of his early reign, Francesco II did his best to avoid entangling himself in the issue of slavery, allowing exploitation, suffering, and hatred to build along the West African coast and on the Caribbean plantations. He knew nothing of the strength of the new Islamic movements taking hold in Egypt, the Sahel, and the Arabian Peninsula. At home, he failed to consider the economic pressure of tens of thousands of men returning from war in need of work and, in many cases, public assistance. He did not understand the resentment and hurt feelings of his subjects in Crete, whose years of loyalty and service appeared forgotten as their king bestowed money and favors upon his other possessions.


The philosopher, mathematician, and scientist Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, a towering figure of the Enlightenment, counted himself among Francesco II’s admirers

Within weeks of the Proclamation of 1 June, the first rumblings of trouble started to make their way to Florence. Piedmont, with its troubled, tragic history, would be the place to kindle the great fire that would sweep the newly forged empire and nearly topple the Medici dynasty. This was an appropriate setting for revolution. The heavy-handedness of the Florentine conquest of the province, which extinguished the ancient Duchy of Savoy, had left an open wound that still festered. Word soon filtered back to the royal authorities in Turin that in several remote, sparsely inhabited valleys, the people had declared their loyalty to the House of Savoy and returned to practicing the Waldensian faith. Armed bands were said to be organizing in the Pellice and Susa Valleys. Italy was in the grip of a brutally hot summer which caused Turin’s inhabitants to endure scorching temperatures, a tide of vermin, and a constant stench of rotting garbage. Such an atmosphere inherently creates tension in urban spaces, so the news of insurgency in the countryside turned up the temperature in the provincial capital. Additionally, issues with the supply of grain had dramatically increased bread prices, adding financial stress to the heat and discomfort. On 13 August, for several hours, bakers’ shops were looted, led by workers who had recently gone unpaid. By nightfall, a crowd of up to 5,000 men and women, armed with nothing but sticks, advanced toward the Palazzo Ducale, residence of the much-maligned Duke Cosimo di Piemonte, crying “pane o morte!” Several royal officials were accosted in the street and the local ufficio pubblico was vandalized and ransacked by the mob. Soldiers of the duke’s private guard were accosted and attacked in the street, with some firing back. At least 5 protesters were killed in the ensuing confrontations, further ratcheting up the tension. Duke Cosimo refused to leave the palace, but his friend and advisor, Anselmo Paganelli, emerged and talked to the protesters in the street. He gave them money and promised to tell the duke and the king that they were owed bread and wages. It was past midnight by the time the crowd dispersed, shouting “Viva il re e il pane!” (“Long live the king, and bread!”) Paganelli had saved royal authority for one night, but the danger was clear: Medici influence in Piedmont hung by a thread. The news of the troubles was met with alarm in Florence, though as of yet there was no official response. The king and his advisors were still optimistic enough to think that this could all blow over. It was mentioned during a briefing to parliament, but nobody took up the issue.


Turin in the 1670s


Beginning of rebellion in Piedmont

Despite the brewing trouble on the rim of the Italian peninsula, the distinction of hosting the first open revolt would not fall to the Piedmontese. Instead, the proud and irascible citizens of Ragusa would claim that mantle. Before their republic was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1541, their motto had been “Liberty is not sold for all the gold in the world”. After a century and a quarter of foreign domination, they were prepared to embrace their words once again. The newly annexed city-state remained gripped in a local civil conflict that rapidly turned into a rebellion. The same societal contradictions that had led Ragusa going over almost voluntarily to the Italians during the Great Crusade were about to trigger a rising against their former “liberators”. In 1671, a large portion of the ruling class, the so-called Italiani faction, staged a coup, seized the city, and opened the gates to Carlo Grimaldi and the Armata dei Balcani. However, in the half decade since the occupation, many of the ruling elites experienced buyers’ remorse. They resented the favoritism shown by Florence toward Venice, Genoa, Ancona, and other Italian trade ports. Instead of being welcomed into the fold, they feared becoming a backwater, third-tier city. Most prominent of the defectors was Francesco Giuseppe Zamagna, who would organize and lead the Ragusan insurgent forces. The rebels began referring to their faction as the jónda del muár, or “wave from the sea” in the local Ragusan dialect of Dalmatian. It was no coincidence they chose their name from a non-Italian indigenous tongue: to distinguish themselves from the pro-Florentine Italiani. They would come to be known as the jóndisti both by their Italian foes and, later, themselves.


Engraving of Francesco Giuseppe Zamagna

In early August, sporadic fighting broke out in the streets of the city between the two factions. The much-diminished Italiani were driven back by their jóndisti foes. In a particularly sharp clash in the middle of the night, on the street between the Rector’s Palace and the Church of Saint Blaise, six of the former and two of the latter were left dead with dozens of others on both sides wounded. By the morning of 16 August, the rebels held all of the major administrative buildings and the majority of the city. The wealthiest among the Italiani were driven back into their palazzi, while the poorer ones were forced out into the countryside. Zamagna was integral in the fighting, organizing neighborhood crews into coherent fighting forces on the fly while also directing his comrades to key points in the city. He was a veteran of the Great Crusade, having entered Austrian service after Ragusa fell to the allies, and he made it all the way to Basra under the flag of Archduke Franz I. The rebels’ victory added to the leader’s prestige, and the stories that quickly spread rallied more men to the cause. By the end of the month, Zamagna had organized nearly 23,000 men into the beginnings of an army. They were poorly armed, many with only cudgels, pitchforks, or hand-sharpened wooden spears.

The dividing line between a jóndista and an Italiano could often be as much about one’s profession or class as it was about one’s linguistic group. The wealthiest merchants were mostly quick to embrace the jóndisti, finding their Ragusan patriotism in the moment when they felt it might help them make more money. The city’s professional classes, however, preferred the Italiani, and there was division among the urban lower classes as well. Bakers, for instance, might favor the rebels, as they feared the tighter regulation on wheat and bread prices imposed by the Italian crown. It is worth noting that, despite the two names given to the opposing sides, they did not neatly break along ethnic lines in the contemporary sense. While many of the Italiani were primarily Italian-speakers while many jóndisti were primarily Dalmatian-speaking, there was widespread crossover. It is likely impossible to determine exact numbers, particularly as most Ragusans used Italian and Croat names, often interchangeably. For instance, there is no reliable data on the ethnicity of some of the most prominent insurgent leaders, including Džore Gundulić (aka Giorgio Gondola), Marin Ranjina (aka Marino Ragnina), and Nikša Lukarević (aka Nicola Luccari), who each are reported to have spoken both Italian and multiple local Croatian dialects. Their names appear interchangeable on ledgers and historical records. Another important development involved the peasantry in the countryside and the people of the more remote fishing villages. Unlike in 1671, when they were convinced to side with the Italians, this time they took no part. The revolt was contained almost entirely to the city itself and the areas within close proximity to the walls.

The downside of Ragusa taking the lead on rebellion, was that the crown had not yet been overwhelmed by uprisings and was still in a position to react decisively. Far from being a backwater, the city figured prominently in the Medici empire building plans and they were loathe to lose it. If Ragusa’s importance to the Italian regime’s plan was known by the city’s merchants, they likely would never have risen to begin with. Francesco II immediately sent word to Vittorio Orsini to mobilize an army to put down the rebellion. The king granted his friend the power and authority to negotiate “any agreement which may bring Ragusa back into the fold without compromising the prestige or strategic position of the kingdom.” Already known for his deft diplomacy during the Balkan Campaign of the Great Crusade, Orsini was in this instance the perfect man for the job. He had been awarded the title Duke of Spoleto as a reward for his gallantry during the war against the Ottomans. On 3 September, he landed at the head of 21,000 soldiers just south of the city. Zamagna, unwilling to risk his men against the guns of the Italian galleons floating just offshore, let them hit the beach unopposed. Instead, he sent part of his force to take up positions in the hills to the east. The city was still somewhat fractured by street fighting and thus did not provide a secure position from which to mount a defense. By taking to the hills, however, Zamagna also ensured that Orsini could not enter the city without confronting him first, as otherwise his forces could harass the Italian siege lines from the rear. Therefore, the stage was set for the first pitched battle of the rebellions.

Orsini was faced with a difficult choice. He could attempt to defeat the rebels outright, something his men had the numbers, discipline, and ruthlessness to do. However, this likely meant bombarding the city from the sea and land, wrecking the harbor, needlessly killing civilians, and rendering the great port economically useless. The alternative approach of cordoning the city with the combined powers of the army and the fleet would take months and similarly devastate the city, setting back any efforts to fully integrate Ragusa into the Italian fold. Instead, Orsini creatively came up with a hybrid approach, combining military and diplomatic means. He would be ruthless in the case of the former, but only in support of the latter. He used the bulk of his army to establish a ring around the city, but declined to fire upon the walls or into the urban center with his artillery. He then dispatched a handful of his best regiments into the hills to hunt down insurgents. This they did with ruthless efficiency. The hastily assembled and poorly armed rebels, despite the impressive leadership skills of Zamagna, were no match for the battle hardened elites of the regular Italian army. For four blood-soaked days between 8 and 12 September 1676, six Italian regiments executed a clearing operation, moving on a line from south to north in the hills east of Ragusa. In a particularly famous engagement, the rebel leader Džore Gundulić and a number of insurgents fought house to house in a small village against a similarly sized force commanded by Orsini personally. The Italians eventually got the better of the tilt but not before Gundulić earned the respect of his foe, with Orsini later declaring him “one of the greatest heroes I ever encountered.” Despite those kind words, the Roman’s campaign was devastating to his foes. The Italians killed or captured nearly 10,000 rebels, or an estimated eighty percent of the force Zamagna had sent into the hills.

This was a devastating blow to the morale of the jóndisti, but presented an excellent opportunity to Orsini. Instead of turning his solders’ fury on Ragusa, he approached the city under a flag of truce. Asking to treat with Zamagna and his lieutenants in person, Orsini was granted admission to the city, with he and two aides entering voluntarily unarmed. With the powers of a royal envoy and the full trust of his monarch, the Duke of Spoleto was free to negotiate any deal he saw fit. The Ragusan Revolt, unlike many of the later uprisings of the period, had a specific goal and limited scope. Thus, even after the defeat of Zamagna’s army in battle, the people held a distinct advantage. Of all the newly conquered lands, perhaps only Alexandria had as much of an immediate, positive impact on Italian finances. The acquisition of two major port cities and centers of trade was enormously important from a strategic perspective. However, Alexandria remained largely loyal (that city’s involvement in the Egyptian rising was entirely reluctant, as will be seen) while Ragusa was now suddenly hostile. The rebels proved themselves open to negotiations and were ready to give up their stated goal of independence in exchange for some privileges and guarantees of fair treatment. The Ragusan merchant class, as assertive and outspoken as any of their peers across the Adriatic, wanted to ensure they did not become denizens of a colonial backwater, but rather the leaders of an important and respected trade center within the larger Italian empire. This was a condition that the crown found itself happy to support and accede to. Ragusa was granted the privilege of levying her own tariffs and taxes on top of those imposed by the Crown, just like Venice and Genoa. Several years after the rebellion, the jónda would be legalized as a civilian political organization and became one of the two key parties in Ragusa. While Gundulić is fondly remembered in Dalmatia as a martyr and folk hero, the rebel leaders who survived got the better of end of the bargain. They were all soon integrated into the various Italian political and mercantile networks, thus increasing their wealth and power. In a great irony, those who led the fight to free Ragusa from Florentine overlordship would turn out to be the ones who profited from Italian control most of all.

While Orsini was deftly handling the situation in Ragusa, his friend and sovereign was struggling back on the Italian peninsula. Francesco II and his advisors correctly identified Piedmont as the next most likely place to go the way of Ragusa. If sending Orsini and an army was the solution to the crisis across the Adriatic, surely the king and an even larger army were more than enough to deal with some disgruntled Alpine shepherds. It would turn out to be an awkward and uncharacteristically indecisive move by the king, particularly following the success of Orsini’s mission. Less than four months after proclaiming a new era of liberty in his realm, Francesco was about to use his army to threaten unruly subjects into silence. That it would fail to either scare off any enemies or win over any friends was a predictable outcome for anyone clear-eyed enough to see it. However, at the onset of the fall of 1676, the king still believed himself to be both universally beloved and militarily invincible. There was little reason not to think that way sitting in Florence, and the triumphalist mood that had gripped the capital during years 1674-76 was yet to be shattered.

The king’s army marched from Florence on 1 September, took the coast road to Genoa, then turned directly north, crossing the Po at Tornello on 17 September. From there, they followed the east bank of the great river, skirting around the French-controlled province of Montferrat (this border remained a touchy subject between the two otherwise close allies), and finally crossing into Piedmont on 21 September. The usual fanfare that accompanied the arrival of the king in most of Italy was conspicuously absent. At Vercelli (in the far friendlier province of Novara), throngs had turned out to meet them, cheering the king and troops and shouting royalist slogans. When they crossed the provincial border and arrived at Chivasso, only the town’s mayor, the parish priest, and an ancient, one-armed knight who claimed to have fought alongside the king’s grandfather were there to greet them. Though there was at least a trickle of people there to welcome the royal host upon their arrival in Turin the following day, the paltry nature of the welcome in a city of that size was embarrassing, nevertheless. The king took up residence in the Palazzo Ducale in the city center, a guest of his half-brother, Duke Cosimo di Piemonte.

Cosimo was the illegitimate son of Gian Gastone I and Louise Charlotte von Hohenzollern, a princess of Brandenburg. Louise Charlotte had been wife to the last independent Savoy Duke, Girolamo I, but he was executed in 1651 and left no issue. The surviving members of the dynasty, having fled to France, were promptly disinherited, and their lands given to the “Bastard Duke”, as Cosimo came to be mockingly known. The new duke gained his title when he was only three years old, so his mother, the much-loathed Louise Charlotte, served as his regent, always supported by her friend and lover, King Gian Gastone. Aside from sending him money and weapons, the king had no relationship with his son, leaving him to be educated as if he were a German, rather than an Italian prince. For the Dowager Duchess, Piedmont was but a step on the road to greatness for her son, whom she grandiosely pictured as Holy Roman Emperor. She left his Catholicism purposely vague and maneuvered toward getting him a match with Princess Hermine von Rank, daughter of Heinrich V, the powerful Elector of Saxony. The religious matter was of little consequence in Turin, one of Italy’s most virulently anti-clerical cities, but the cultural aloofness of the duke and his little court triggered the ire of his subjects. Continued political and economic subservience to Florence made it worse. Unfortunately for the would-be Caesar, the coming avalanche in the western Alps was to bury his and his mother’s ambitions.


Duke Cosimo di Piemonte (left) and his ambitious mother, Louise Charlotte von Hohenzollern (right)

In addition to the chilly reception from the locals and an incompetent half-sibling, Francesco's precipitous march into Piedmont at the head of a very large army caused alarm across the border in France and sparked a diplomatic row. Despite nearly two centuries of alliance, Italy and France still shared a few frontier-related flashpoints. Montferrat was particularly sensitive as it was a French possession that jutted deep into northwest Italy, gained through inheritance from the now extinct di Morra dynasty. Louis XX's representative in the province, a certain Chevalier de Machault, raised the alarm, summoned reserves into the local militia, and pleaded to his king to send more troops. Louis ordered Marc de Boissieu (now wearing the sporty title of Duc de Ventadour as a reward for his exploits in the Great Crusade) to move east from his base in Marseille and threaten Nice should the Italians cross the frontier. Louis then wrote a passive aggressive letter to his counterpart, demanding to know his intentions and how long he planned to keep his army near the border. The king had copies of this letter sent to Paris to be printed in the gazettes (with a few light edits to make it seem more imperious than it really was). When a mortified Francesco II apologetically replied, asking pardon for causing alarm and explaining that he was only there “due to political difficulties with certain local factions in the province", Louis had those published as well. The whole embarrassing incident, so well played by the savvy Valois monarch, only added to the growing impression that Francesco was fumbling his response.

Tension s between the army and the locals soon replaced alarmed Frenchmen as the main danger. Francesco arrived in Piedmont with no real plan once his troops had established a defensive ring around Turin. It seems the king intended for his troops to act as armed ambassadors, with orders to “treat the people with kindness” and “avoid violence where a conversation can solve the problem.” That his subordinate officers would be unable to understand, follow, or enforce such an order should have been obvious. Francesco appears to have imagined his troops acting similarly to a modern police force, though why he decided to entrust this task to the same men with whom he had just clobbered Christendom’s most fearsome foe stands as one of the most puzzling decisions of his reign. It is impossible to blame Piedmontese locals, whether Catholic of Waldensian, for their resistance. It would be nearly equally unjust to blame troops whose battle experience was forged in a war of annihilation for failing to grasp the finer points of counterinsurgency operations. While he can be given credit for attempting a creative approach to a difficult problem, Francesco failed to put his men in position to succeed. Thus, the fault for the collapse of the situation in Piedmont lies with the king. The plan, needless to say, fell apart almost immediately.

By mid-October, reports were arriving in Turin of soldiers disappearing in the night, men going out to town and never returning, and horses and weapons being regularly stolen. Francesco, who had taken Cosimo on as an “advisor on local matters”, took these rumblings of trouble and made them worse. From their arrival in Piedmont through the end of October, the army was positioned in and around Turin. Though it strained relations between troops and civilians a bit, and despite chilly reception for the king, the city remained a rather cosmopolitan place and was large enough and wealthy enough to bear the burden of billeting troops, particularly as the army was carting in most of its own food supplies. The king commanded a small force in the city proper, with detachments in the towns of Rivoli, Venaria, Superga, Moncalieri, and Orbassano, forming a defensive ring. Beginning in November, Francesco broke up even these detachments and sent them out into the valleys. Within days, the inevitable first clashes began. There were no major engagements, but a low intensity resistance kept up a steady pressure on the occupying army.

From the Val Soana to the Val Sangone, unfriendly civilians gave the cold shoulder to any “Florentines” stationed in their valley. That was the face of the resistance. In the background was an even grimmer reality: small but well-organized armed bands lurked in the hillsides, getting regular intelligence from those same villagers. Though they still lacked the unity and cohesion to strike out in force, they were already a nightmare for the royal army. Commanders ordered that no men should leave encampments in groups smaller than 4-6 soldiers for fear of disappearing. Patrols were conducted in large numbers, with all troops heavily armed and ready for battle. This naturally alienated the locals and immediately neutralized any hope the king may have harbored of his troops winning so-called “hearts and minds”. Instead, the increasingly isolated men turned their frustrations right back on the justifiably unfriendly locals. Even more disastrously, the king failed to heed warnings from the War Ministry that they would be unable to sustain supply lines into the isolated valleys the way they had done up to Turin. Beyond the provincial capital, the soldiers would have to forage, and with winter quickly approaching, this was to set off a further wave of violence between occupiers and occupied. Across Piedmont, tit-for-tat murders and ensuing vendettas between soldier and civilian only increased hatred toward Florentine authority. Patrols in many areas ceased to serve any purpose beyond stealing food and other supplies from helpless farmers and shepherds. In retaliation, the locals killed any troops they found alone and vulnerable. Grisly fates could be expected for any collaborators as well. This fueled a tragic cycle wherein soldiers would rob a village of its food supplies, then turn around and offer the villagers, now suddenly destitute and in danger of starvation, food in exchange for information. Anyone who agreed, no matter how desperate their case, could expect a visit from armed men in the night. Their mutilated corpses turning up the following morning outside the local army post. This was to be only the start of the Piedmontese resistance, and the clashes in the Alpine valleys would pale compared to the later pitched battles, but they represented a cold, bitter, personal side of the rebellion that would leave a lasting impression on the area. The bitter winter of 1676-77 was a fitting first scene for the tragic events to follow.

Compared to the snowy Alpine passes of Piedmont, the bright, verdant banks of the Nile seemed like a different world. However, in the 1670s and 80s, the two lands were linked by their spirit of resistance. The conditions for revolt in Egypt were similar to Piedmont’s, just more acute since their invasion had just happened, and on a vastly larger scale. For the king’s new Muslim subjects, the economic prosperity they had previously enjoyed under Ottoman rule was quickly evaporating, making the already difficult conditions normally brought on by war all the more severe. Cairo, like Turin, quickly became a hotbed for dissent. The great urban center was also a major crossroads in the region and a university town, drawing merchants, clergy, and students. Pilgrims on the hajj passed through,l constantly introducing the locals to new people from other places with different experiences, skills, and information, and thus expanding their mental horizons. Thus, two key ingredients of rebellion were present in the city in abundance: the vibrant intellectual culture that sparked new visions of resistance alongside the degraded material conditions necessary to mobilize the masses. All that remained was for someone to take charge of this groundswell of popular feeling and channel it to a purpose. That man was Muhammad Baibars.

Muhammad ibn Tariq al-Farsī was born in Mūshā in the province of Asyut sometime around 1630. Though his name suggests Persian ancestry, there is no mention of this in any contemporary sources. His father was a landowner along the Nile at one point but for unknown reasons appears to have remained destitute when Muhammad was a small child. The boy went to Cairo to live with an uncle who raised him alongside his own sons and got him enrolled in the Sultan Al-Ghuri Madrasa. Considered a brilliant yet distracted student from the beginning, the budding philosophical prodigy nevertheless won praise from almost all his teachers. However, he learned business instincts and gained a taste for sex, gambling, and hashish (much to the despair of several of his mentors) while spending time with the silk traders whose market was right next door to the Sultan Al-Ghuri complex. Then, early on while studying Islamic law at Al-Azhar University, likely around 1648-49, he experienced some troubling or traumatic event, which in his later years he would only describe as “my greatest despair” and credited it with changing his life. From then on, he adopted an ascetic lifestyle, stopped spending time with “immoral characters,” and fully devoted himself to religious learning. While this initially caused his instructors to rejoice (one went so far as to “thank God for giving us back this great genius”), they soon grew wary of what he had become. The previously gregarious young man with a fondness for easy living was now a fanatic for fasting and moral purity. He became belligerent with professors, engaging in angry arguments with them in front of other students. For these and other reasons, he would not complete his learning at Al-Azhar, angrily withdrawing even as the administration begged him to stay as they gave him yet another chance to reform. Instead, he left Cairo to return home to Mūshā. He soon took up residence on an island in the Nile where he lived as a sort of hermit, fishing and making his own clothing. It was not long before he attracted followers and, by most accounts, a thriving commune of several dozen people existed on the island by the late 1660s. He took at least two wives and fathered several children while leading this spiritual community. The Great Crusade, however, would shake Muhammad ibn Tariq from this temporary moment of tranquility.


The Ghuriya buildings and the market street in between them. Baibars spent the intellectually formative years of his life here.

When the Italians swarmed over Egypt in 1673, Muhammad began paddling a small raft along the banks of the Nile preaching a new vision of Islam. His message was severe yet simple: the Prophet and his companions had crafted a perfect society and thus all the faithful should strive to live as they did. He rejected the spiritual authority of all temporal Muslim rulers and explicitly rejected the Ottoman sultan’s claims of being the Caliph (Khalifa); the politico-religious successor to the Prophet and a leader of the entire Muslim community (Ummah). He espoused the idea of a “just dictatorship” that would “grant freedom and prosperity to the virtuous alone” and that “rule by sharia law would require no secular government at all.” Above all, he and his followers embraced the tenet of armed jihad as the only way to defeat the infidel crusaders, marking a striking break from his previously pacific outlook while living on the island commune. Unlike the Ottoman and Tunisian propagandists, this new preacher seemed to speak for the masses. He was not exhorting them to fight an outside invader, throwing away their lives for some distant ruler, but rather he was asking the people to focus on a great internal purification which would expel both the infidel invaders and the “false prophets of the sultans.” The great Islamic powers had become weak, effeminate, decadent. There was no other explanation for their total military and political prostration before these barbarians from the other side of the Mediterranean. It is at this point that he began to claim descent from Baibars, the Thirteenth Century Egyptian sultan whose legendary victories over the Christian crusaders as well as the Mongols had earned him the honorific Abu al-Futuh or “Father of Conquest”. Muhammad claimed to have discovered texts that spelled this out, though he never bothered to produce them. While there is no real support for the latter-day Baibars' claim of descent, it largely did not matter. He had already shown an innate ability to unify and mobilize Egyptian Muslims behind his cause of religious purification. By the time he was proclaimed sultan, the core of the movement that would terrify the crowned heads in Sanaa, Istanbul, Florence, and Tunis was already formed.

Baibars returned to Cairo in the spring of 1675, with the Peace of Basra still several months away, to find a city devastated from the war. A wealthy follower provided him the money to buy a plot of land on the outskirts of the city (likely to have been quite a bargain given a real estate market surely cratered by the war) and soon sent for his followers to join him. They re-established their commune within the compound walls, but this time dedicated themselves to training for war. More important than military training, Baibars organized teams of preachers to go about the city spreading his message, exhorting the people to follow their cause. Creatively, and despite his fundamentalist Islamic ideology, he employed women as well, sending them to convert the city’s wives, mothers, and daughters so that they may influence their husbands, sons, and fathers at home. They would come to be known as Baibaris, after their inspirational and zealous leader. The Baibaris considered practices such as the veneration of Prophets and saints in the Islamic tradition as heretical. They emphasized the reliance on the literal meaning of the Quran and hadith, rejecting rationalistic theology and embracing the doctrine of takfir (i.e. of labeling Muslims who disagreed with Baibari doctrine as apostates). Their thought had its roots in the Athari (literal) school, which represented the prevalent theological position of the Hanbali school of law. They were not the first to follow such a theological path, but their exploits in the coming struggles, and their fierce, determined resistance to Christian occupation gained them great prestige and established them as spiritual forebears of other, later purifying currents in Islam.

The Baibari doctrines had great appeal in a land destroyed by war and abandoned by its previously grand and invincible Muslim overlords. Baibari sermons, whether preached by the leader himself or one of his many acolytes, were often as fiercely directed at the sultans in Istanbul and Tunis as they were toward their new king in Florence. Within a few months of their arrival, throngs of people were turning out to hear, particularly when Baibars himself spoke. For reasons already seen, a major metropolis teeming with hungry, terrorized people was ripe for revolt. Add in a fiery new ideology and the situation became all the more acute. When the newly established (and out of their depths) Italian authorities finally tried to crack down on Baibars, they found the majority of the city guard, instead of seizing him as a rabble rouser, were prepared to defend him. The handful of Italian troops protecting the citadel were confined there, risking attack anytime they left. In the summer of 1676, Baibars and his followers orchestrated a coup at Al-Azhar, getting all of the faculty and leadership to either declare their embrace of his ideology or be forced out. The student who had once quit the school out of anger at its rigid rules, was now in charge of making those rules. With one of the great centers of Islamic learning in their grasp, the Baibaris were ready to take center stage.


The courtyard of Cairo’s Al-Azhar Mosque and University

On 4 November 1676, on the banks of the Nile, Baibars was proclaimed Caliph and given the title Sultan of Egypt by a group of Islamic scholars. Muhammad Baibars is proclaimed Sultan of Egypt. However, this great Islamic awakening had not come only from the top down. The great Muslim powers of the region had been laid low by Christian invaders. The decadence of the sultans in Istanbul, Tunis, and Aden showed the even more horrific truth: that their very faith was bankrupt. To men like Baibars, there was no other explanation for how such a backwards people could defeat the might of Islam’s greatest states. Instead, the anger triggered by the massacres at Jerusalem, Benghazi, and Cairo itself were channeled into a new movement, and that movement now had its own state.


The Citadel of Cairo; built by Saladin in the late 12th Century, it housed the Italian colonial offices until they were captured by the Baibari rebels.

Florentine leaders were slow to grasp the severity of the situation developing in Cairo. Their attention was temporarily diverted to Crete, a steadfast, loyal Mediterranean bastion for decades, the islanders took the moment of chaos within the realm to demand more rights and control. Like Ragusa, this rebellion was based on material and economic demands, not national independence. Still, these developments were extremely troubling given the island’s previously friendly and peaceful disposition. Tuscany, alongside Austria, had helped secure Cretan independence from Venice in 1536 and over time the island slowly drifted closer to Florence’s orbit. The daughter of the Prince of Crete married the brother of the Grand Duke of Tuscany and their son, the eventual King Alberto I, united Italy and, along the way, inherited the island upon the death of his childless uncle: Prince Giacomo I. The wise Alberto sent Ercole di Canossa, his illegitimate nephew and a highly skilled administrator, to oversee the transition. By the time the latter departed Crete to rebuild Cyprus following the latter’s own revolt, he had built an efficient bureaucracy with a healthy mix of Italian and indigenous officials. After Canossa’s departure in 1644, his successor, the Genovese Terenzio Pinelli continued the transition toward local control, with every subsequent governor, beginning with Doménikos Chortatzis in 1649, being a native Cretan.

The Governor of Crete at the start of the revolt was Vitsentzos Venizelos, a paunchy, well liked country gentleman in his mid-40s who hailed from a family of wealthy vintners. Just like in Ragusa, the movement against Italian royal authority was led by businessman and the wealthy classes, who opposed the perceived favoritism toward Italian merchants. They had watched what happened in Ragusa closely and now sought to gain many of those same privileged. They appeared to have a natural ally in Venizelos, who was a member of their class. However, the governor, perhaps not being convinced of his fellow Cretans’ ability to win a confrontation with Florence, demurred and would not lend assistance them. This led to a confrontation at the entrance to the Castello a Mare, the massive, Venetian-built fort that guards the harbor of Candia. Venizelos and his small staff had repaired there in anticipation of disturbances. The governor emerged on the battlements proceeded to hold a negotiation with the leaders of the mob without. The two sides agreed that the governor be allowed to stay in his position, but “officially” as a prisoner of the Candia Business Association, the group in charge of speaking for the merchant interests. Venizelos would handle all communication between the rebels and Florence. This awkward yet practical arrangement spared the island much bloodshed, and kept everyone level-headed enough to avoid escalation. The royal authorities in Florence trusted Venizelos and would heed his recommendations in diffusing this particular crisis.


The Castello a Mare was the principal fortress guarding Candia’s harbor and the negotiated seat of Governor Vitsentzos Venizelos during the Cretan Revolt

This relatively minor disturbance in the Mediterranean was quickly set aside as the declaration of the Caliphate and the effective loss of Italian control in Cairo finally set off alarm bells in Florence. To make matters worse, royal officials and their families, some from ancient Italian houses, were trapped and imperiled. The Armata d’Egitto was standing by in Alexandria, ready to take action. Its commander, Demetrio Barberini, had been writing urgently to the Palazzo Vecchio begging “permission to re-establish order in His Majesty’s Egyptian domains.” Finally, this was granted by the War Ministry on the understanding that, “all care be taken to avoid further damage to [Cairo] and our subjects within.” Clearly, everyone from Ginevra Toscani on down the chain of command expected decisive victory. The Italian army in Egypt was not a large force, but it was largely composed of Crusade veterans, well trained, and benefitted from the steady and reliable stream of supplies provided by the navy. Most of all, it was the commander who inspired confidence in Florence. 32 years old, slightly built, and possessing “delicate, almost feminine features” (in the words of Toscani), Demetrio Barberini was the opposite in temperament to his rival, Vittorio Orsini. While the latter was easygoing, gregarious, and cocky, Barberini was a high-strung introvert known for his meticulous planning and attention to detail. Historically, the Barberini had been bitter Medici rivals in both Florence and Rome. However, with the realignment of the Roman patriciate following the end of the German Exile in 1631 and the papacy’s return to the Eternal City, they switched sides, backing the Medici-Orsini-Chigi alliance that had asserted a stranglehold over Vatican politics. Now, the scion of the family was a rising star in the army. He had been one of Grimaldi’s best officers over the course of the North African campaign, developing the battle plans for the capture of Rosetta and the victory at the Battle of Sfax. At the end of the Great Crusade, with Grimaldi’s retirement, Barberini was given the honor of commanding the force left behind, what would become the new Armata d’Egitto. As the first major, permanent overseas command in Italian history, the appointment was considered highly prestigious and a major step toward becoming overall commander of the armed forces. Perhaps, if he could add enough accolades to his resumé, Demetrio could even overtake Orsini as the king’s favorite commander. Unfortunately, none of these dreams were to come to fruition. The tidal wave that was rushing over the Islamic world was about to sweep aside the ambitious commander and his entire army.

They set out on 30 November, departing their encampment along the coast east of Alexandria and heading south-southeast through the Nile Delta, passing through Tanta on 5 December. The Baibaris were aware of the Italians’ movements, with informants aplenty and a friendly local populace everywhere south of the coastal cities. An alternate route, which would have taken the Italians through the deserts west of the Nile to envelope the city from the south was rejected by Barberini ahead of their march. Prior to the rebellion, when Barberini was establishing his command, he brought on a local to establish a native scout corps. The man's name was Ibn Mu‘ṭī al-Zawāwī, commonly referred to simply as ibn Muti, and he soon became a constant presence at the general's side. Of nomadic stock, he hailed from the Siwa people and spoke their dialect of the Berber language. Though he was a Muslim, he claimed to have fought against both Ottoman and Tunisian soldiers during the Great Crusade while operating a band of guerillas. The general soon took to favoring his council above that of all others, breeding resentment among the other Italian officers. Many did not trust him, and the next few days were to justify their fears. On the 8th, the Armata d’Egitto was hit by sudden, lashing rains, which caused flash flooding that saw men and pack animals dragged away downstream. Wagons got stuck in the swampy conditions along the riverbanks, hampering their progress. The weather returned to its previously pleasant state the following day, but the commander's confidence was shaken. Barberini, unused to the pressure of overall command, began to buckle. When he had led forces previously, as he had done with Grimaldi in Tunisia, other Italian armies were operating nearby. Now, he and his men were alone. There was no relief army coming and as they passed through the increasingly hostile countryside, he began to be consumed by doubt. On the night of the 9th, Barberini and his top officers took part in a contentious war council. The chief scout reported his intelligence findings to the group, urging them to strike soon as the rebels were scattered. Ibn Muti said it was a blessing, because the enemy's armies were divided up and could be defeated piecemeal. This was a relief for the general, who was growing uneasy by the growing numbers of men the enemy was alleged to have with each of his scouts’ reports. Barberini resolved to march on Cairo immediately, destroy the small force guarding the city, rescue the Italians trapped in the citadel, and then forge into the countryside to eradicate the remaining rebel forces. While the plan seemed simple enough, it relied entirely on ibn Muti’s intelligence report. Giandomenico Ravignani, the commander of the regular cavalry, requested to send out a reconnaissance in force using the Italian regular mounted units to confirm what the chief scout was reporting. Ibn Muti angrily challenged Ravignani for questioning his loyalty. Swords were drawn and only Barberini’s reluctant intervention prevented bloodshed. The war council ended with no plan agreed upon and with Barberini looking increasingly overwhelmed. The next day, the army lurched another day’s march further south, unknowingly walking into Baibars’ trap.

The Armata d’Egitto had very little knowledge of what sort of opponent they would face. Contrary to Italian propaganda pamphlets of the time, Baibars was not a simpleton in command of a rabble. His soldiers were mostly poor and equipped with crude, unsophisticated weapons, but they fought with discipline, ferocity, and courage. Later stories, perhaps seeking to diminish the shame of the defeat, that claimed that “a legion of janissaries” formed the core of this Muslim army. However, there is scant evidence that any more than a handful of janissary veterans were in Baibars' ranks, certainly nothing approaching a legion. The Ottoman regime, as has been seen, had no interest in assisting these revolutionaries with troops. All evidence points to one simple, astounding fact: Baibars and his disciples crafted, from scratch, an army out of the shattered remains of post-Crusade Egyptian society. This army was about to unleash a furious torrent of vengeance. On the 10th, his mounted troops, riding a motley assortment of horses, donkeys, and camels, began harassing attacks against the Italians’ forward elements. Thinking this was largely the main force he would be facing, Barberini urged his men forward, desperate to seize the advantage promised to him by ibn Muti. This drew them further into the trap. When they made camp on the night of the 10th, Barerini suddenly seemed to feel no urgency. He simply briefed his officers that they would begin deploying to envelop the city the following morning, continuing to press the foes they had met that day. They would work their way toward the citadel to relieve their trapped countrymen. He then retired to his tent with only his adjutant and ibn Muti, to plan out the routes of march. Then, on the morning of the 11th, as the blissfully ignorant Italians continued to lumber toward the walls of Cairo, and as the government officials and their families trapped in the citadel allowed themselves to begin to hope for rescue, over 50,000 Baibari fighters moved into position. As the Italians approached the northeastern portion of the city walls, the enemy struck. The regimental commanders, with no clear plan from the general, had let their units drift, creating a ragged looking column that was not well positioned to react to attack. This turned out to be a fatal error. As Baibars’ cavalry began to harass the rear this time, a mass of club and spear-wielding peasants smashed into the left flank of the column as it moved north to south. The sheer physical force of the charge cut straight through the center of the Reggimento San Terenzio, fracturing the column and immediately splitting the Italians into two groups. The Egyptian cavalry, soon reinforced by another wave of camel and horse-mounted troops ceased their harassing attacks and turned to full on charges, wheeling around over and over, as they wore the Italians out. The four regiments in the rear, who had been behind the San Terenzio, consisted of two each of infantry and artillery. The mounted warriors made quick work of them, penetrating the barely formed infantry squares and running amuck through the cannons, seizing them for their own use. The front of the column lasted a bit longer, and at least offered some resistance, but it was of little help. Barberini was initially indecisive and by the time he attempted to organize and rally his men, his regiments were far apart and lacked any coordination. Then, during the middle of the day, the general disappeared. From there, the Baibaris methodically herded the men into separate pockets and annihilated them. Barberini’s disappearance was soon explained when he re-appeared, naked and tied to donkey, where he accompanied Baibars on a tour of the battlefield and was made to watch the rebels complete the massacre of his men. Once this grisly tour was completed, the general was untied from the donkey, tied to a large stone, and unceremoniously dumped into the Nile. For Barberini, it was an ignominious end to a previously promising career. His failure had also led to the deaths of 14,000 Italians, including large numbers of battle hardened veterans whose experience was hard to replace.


The Battle of Cairo inflicted a devastating defeat upon the Italians and made a hero of Baibars

The next day, with extra motivation, a number of Baibars’ men scaled the walls of the citadel and made their way inside. Fighting their way to the southern gate, they threw it open, letting a group of Baibars best fighters inside. There was barely any resistance after that. The terrified, exhausted denizens of the citadel had given up hope following the destruction of the relief army. There was no frenzy of killing as there had been after the battle. This capture was cold and businesslike. The adult men were all put to the sword, lined up for beheading shortly after the seizure of the castle. The women and children were distributed among Baibars’ most important supporters. The leader took as his own bride the Florentine noblewoman Bianca Vasari, whose husband, Rodrigo Quartigiani, had just been executed. With the fall of the citadel, the Italian defeat and humiliation was complete.



Engravings such as this one, depicting shocking acts of torture perpetrated by the “Saracens” against their Italian captives in Cairo, were a common sight in Italian cities and meant to stir up anti-rebel sentiment and anti-Muslim sentiment. Pictures like these were often accompanied by lurid stories of brutality against captured soldiers and sexual depredations against Italian women.

This defeat was far more catastrophic than the one suffered against Fásil Ezana and his Beja warriors 30 months earlier in the Sudan. While both movements were motivated by similar radical currents within Islam, though this remained far outside the crown’s understanding at the time, the Sudanese campaign had been a far-flung adventure whose failure, in the grand scheme of things, meant very little. This new debacle threw the entire Italian imperial project into crisis. Little more than a year had passed since the Peace of Basra and suddenly Florentine control in the Middle East had collapsed. Baibars was already becoming a living legend. His defeat of the Italians made him, at that moment, the most powerful political figure in the Islamic world aside, from the Ottoman Sultan. When word came back to Florence about the disaster at Cairo, the court, the parliament, and the war ministry were plunged into despair. Some deputati went so far as to call for Ginevra Toscani to be replaced as Minister of War. Others, particularly the group of parliamentarians coalescing around the Florentine Callisto Amidei and his “New Ghibellines” bloc, called for the abandonment of the entire Egyptian project. “There are too many problems close to home,” declared his ally, Nestore De Cristoforo of Ferrara, “we have neither the men nor the money nor the time to concern ourselves with ruling those who don’t want us.” Still, despite these dissenting voices, the king had no intention of abandoning his hard-won prizes, and most of the parliament agreed. A majority, urged on by the President of the Chamber (Presidente della Camera) Giovan Battista Boccabadati, passed a declaration vowing to support any royal demand for funds to fight the rebels. The destruction of the Armata d’Egitto set off alarm bells in the Ottoman capital as well. As Muslims, Sultan Selim I and his Grand Vizier, Reza Darvishi Khan, recognized the potential revolutionary power of Baibars and his followers. Within his empire, the sultan’s agents ceaselessly sought out potential centers of revolt and any nascent Baibari cadres to crush them before they could blossom into revolution. They understood much more deeply than the Italians the magnitude of the threat Baibars and his followers posed. They also covertly sought to undermine Baibar’s regime, going as far as supplying intelligence to the Italians. Discovery of this fact would have surely led to scandal in Istanbul, but the authorities were so concerned by the threat posed by this would-be Caliph, that they were willing to risk it.

The chief prize of the Great Crusade, the holy city of Jerusalem, seemed poised to fall next. The annihilation of the Armata d’Egitto left a total power vacuum in the Holy Land, and it did not take long for Muslim rebels, galvanized by their co-religionists’ great victory in the Nile Valley, to overthrow what remained of Italian authority. Even more troubling than in Egypt, where loyalty to the crown or Baibars was determined largely along religious lines, the rebels in Jerusalem were a multi-confessional group. They had spent the early months of 1677 organizing themselves following Baibars’ victory. While the rebels in Palestine did not establish a formal authority as the Egyptians did, they possessed a guiding body, titled the Committee of Seven. It included respected figures from all of the major religious groups in the region. It included Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Melkites, and three Muslims (one Shiite and two Sunnis, the latter two each from differing religious schools) members. They elected as their head Husayn Pasha of the Ridwan-Farrukh-Turabay trade dynasty. This tight alliance of families had become wealthy thanks to their control of the revenues from the annual hajj caravan, which someone from one of the three families often commanded. They had effectively ruled Gaza under the Ottomans, and had seen their position suffer severely under the new regime. Gaza had prospered under Husayn Pasha’s rule before and he maintained friendly relations with the Bedouin tribes of the region, as well as local Christian communities. Most importantly, he had the money to fund the creation of an army. The Jewish representative on the council was none other than Moshe ben Yonatan Galante, the same rabbi who had negotiated a bargain for repayment with Francesco II following the Sack of Jerusalem. Galante, who kept up an exchange of letters with the monarch, explained to his correspondent that, “while I know you to be a good man, my people have chosen to follow the lead of the Committee of Seven, and I must listen to their voice.” Galante may have been more pro-rebellion than he let on in that letter. He was a vocal supporter of bringing the Jews of Jerusalem on board with a Muslim-led plan, though he always advocated for caution over reckless violence. The others on the committee included Antony Jarweh (Melkite), Aabid al-Mian (Sunni), Yousef Khoury (Syriac Orthodox), Dositheos Notaras (Greek Orthodox; Patriarch of Jerusalem), and Zahir al-Nassar (Shia).


As the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Dositheos Notaras was a key rebel leader in Palestine

On 4 May 1677, an armed mob from across the city appeared before the offices of Viceroy Cassiano Chigi in the Christian Quarter of the city. When they arrived, however, the viceroy was out of the office, having tea in a nearby building. Thus, men fanned out to look for him and they did not take long to track down their prey. Chigi and two of his functionaries, Ezechiele D'Aprile and Filomeno Galella, were dragged through the streets, being kicked and spat upon by the crowd. Cries of “Death to the foreigners!’ and “Down with the King!” filled the air. The trio were then dragged all the way to the walls above the Damascus gate, dividing the Christian Quarter from the Muslim one. D’Aprile and Galella were promptly beheaded, their bodies dumped over the walls. Chigi suffered a much crueler fate. He was tied down, the bones in his arms and legs were smashed with hammers, and he was left to die a slow and agonizing death in the sun. Memories of the brutal Italian sack of the city were still fresh in residents’ minds, and anyone who was associated with the hated foreign regime was hunted down and killed. Of the twenty or so young and idealistic clerks, accountants, administrators, and secretaries sent to help Chigi rule the holy city, only three are known to have made it out alive. Though none of the victims were present at Jerusalem for the sack, they represented an easy target for those in search of long-awaited vengeance.

The Committee of Seven, who seem to have had no influence over the violence, now found themselves nominally in control of Jersualem, almost by accident. They were the closest thing to formal authority that existed and with Husayn Pasha’s wealth they had enough money to hire and pay for armed men to enforce their authority. However, unlike with their rebellious cousins in Egypt, the Palestinian rebellion had no central focus or guiding ideology. While the polyglot nature of the coalition gave them support across all levels of society, it also meant that it was nearly impossible to get everyone on the same page. By late June of 1677, the Committee of Seven had broken into three camps, each with its own followers among Jerusalem’s citizens. Husayn Pasha, Jarweh, and al-Mian favored reuniting with the Ottoman Empire while Galante and Khoury wanted to eventually make amends with Italy and return to the fold on better terms. Al-Nassar and Notaras had the most creative idea: to forge an independent state under the combined protection of the King of Poland and the Sultan of Yemen. Union with the newly formed Egyptian Caliphate seemed to appeal to nobody among the seven, though all seemed to agree some outreach was necessary. The initial success of the Palestinian revolt had taken everyone, including the presumptive heads of the rebellion, by surprise. Now, with such a valuable prize squarely in their hands, Jerusalem’s leaders could not agree on a clear path forward, leaving a glimmer of hope alive for a restoration of Italian power.

Despite the rebels’ dysfunction in Palestine, there was little to feel happy about in Florence. To the north, in Piedmont, the counterinsurgency campaign was failing amid local resistance and increasingly harsh reprisals from the soldiers. For the locals, it was difficult not to hear the echoes of the infamous “Piedmontese Easter” of 1647 in the sounds of marching boots and whinnying stallions. In Crete, the people remained defiant, refused to pay taxes, and chased off any ships that attempted to dock on the island unless “authorized”. The Baibaris spent the first half of 1677 consolidating their power in the Nile Valley, with only Alexandria and Rosetta remaining under any form of royal control. Beyond these glaring conflagrations, smaller fires smoldered elsewhere. The ideas and ideologies that inspire rebellion and revolution across different lands are often connected. As has already been seen, the great Islamic revival that swept over East Africa, Egypt, and the Arabian Peninsula in this period sparked major rebellions against the rule of Alodia, Italy, Kaffa, Tunis, and Yemen. Though the rebellions had different leaders, constituencies, and local motivating causes, they were linked by a shared ideological current that had taken hold in that part of the world.

Italy even before the Great Crusade had been a “composite state”. Like its peers elsewhere in Europe, Florence ruled a varied and heterogeneous realm, no matter how much she tried to hide it. For example, there were numerous languages spoken in the country, some lacking mutual intelligibility with one another and each had its own local varieties. All these languages evolved from Vulgar Latin in parallel with Tuscan Italian, long prior to the popular diffusion of the latter throughout the peninsula. Even into later centuries, Italian would exist mainly as a literary language, with only about fifteen percent of the population speaking the “proper” Tuscan variety on a regular basis. Thus, any sense of national unity was tenuous at best and the varied nature of the kingdom made it vulnerable to popular risings. The Medici and their sophisticated ruling apparatus had mostly done a good job of holding things together and moments of great national prestige helped create some sense of patriotism. Unification had also made Italian identity a de jure reality, but there were still enough cracks to cause concern. This was not even taking into account the overseas possessions, with their entirely different languages and peoples. Rebellions not only often began in the periphery of the state, but also quickly spread around the rest of the periphery. The risings that began in Turin and Ragusa hardly threatened the kingdom’s heartland, but they sparked further, increasingly dangerous conflagrations, which the authorities in the capital exhausted their resources to put out.

Just as the Enlightenment spread ideas among the elite of the European intelligentsia, so too did it nourish the minds of the rebels. Increased literacy, improved methods of communication, and far-flung social networks conspired to magnify anti-establishment manifestations. It is little wonder that so many notable intellectuals were among the rebels’ ranks. Though they did their best to cover their tracks, there is ample evidence of correspondence among seemingly unrelated leaders. Waldensians in Piedmont made a hero of Muhammad Baibars and his Egyptians. The Council of Turin wrote him a congratulatory letter for being “the liberator of his people” and the Caliph replied gratefully with a shipment of grain as times got harder and the Florentine noose tightened on the resistance. The Sagra di Maometto, still celebrated in certain valleys in Piedmont, is a testament to this exchange. Francesco Zamagna and his fellow insurrectionists in Ragusa corresponded with their peers in Crete, and numerous trade and business networks, both formal and informal, linked the two places and the two uprisings. It is little coincidence then, that these two were resolved most peacefully and were the most successful.

With the situation teetering on the edge of an abyss, a significant rising anywhere else on the Italian peninsula could have been fatal. All eyes turned to the Mezzogiorno, historically a hotbed of rebelliousness. However, despite numerous risk factors, the south stayed quiet. This was a sign that Medici investments in the region as well as their reputation for protecting the peasantry were paying dividends. The Crown Prince had spent many of his formative years in Naples and the Campania. He had travelled extensively through Calabria, Puglia, and Sicily. The people of the south, likely for the first time since the Tuscan conquest, felt as if they knew and could relate to their monarch. He may have been born in Tuscany, but Francesco was more of the south than he was of the north. Just as the people of Naples had embraced Queen Carlota Luisa during her self-imposed exile, so they embraced her royal son. Costanzo Boncompagni, a prominent southern politician and a son of the former Lord High Admiral, was appointed viceroy in early 1677. Descendants of the last independent King of Naples, the Boncompagni were longstanding Medici allies (Costanzo was himself a descendant, on his mother’s side, of Filippo I, the third Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany) and they once again contributed to preserving the dynasty.

Despite these efforts, given the existence of so many grievances, it is still surprising that revolts did not occur in the south regardless of their opinion of the king or government. Esteem for the monarch and open rebellion were not mutually exclusive. In part, the economic difficulties themselves served as an obstacle. A family that did not work, whether on strike, in rebellion, or unemployed, might not eat. Second, the vertical links of kinship, friendship, faction, patronage, and ritual in each community created ties between the rich and powerful and the poor that could discourage violent action. In the South, unlike large swaths of the north, much of the “Medieval” form of peasant life persisted well into the Eighteenth Century. Because of this, in these farming communities of the Mezzogiorno, the poor often depended for their survival on deference and subordination. Better-off neighbors were more likely to provide relief in time of need to those who showed constant respect and obedience, whereas neglect or surliness might lead to denial of charity and even expulsion from the community. However much the southern peasants may have resented their subordination and humiliation, their circumstances compelled them to conform. They might try to negotiate the terms of subordination, but they rarely dared to challenge it openly. In the past, like in 1617, famine and destitution became so great that the people’s despair still drove them to arms. However, even with growing economic hardship to close out the 1670s, the situation never became quite as dire as earlier in the century. Thus, thanks to a combination of political, economic, and social factors, the Mezzogiorno stayed loyal. The significance of this cannot be ignored. With the Italian state in such a perilous, unstable condition, even a mild uprising in Naples, Palermo, Messina, or Salerno may have been enough to topple the entire apparatus. Instead, with the core homeland provinces mostly quiet and peaceful, Florence would have enough breathing room to organize herself and slowly claw back control over her possessions farther afield.

The Italian colonies in the Americas also remained quiet. In the Indies, the powerful plantation families had too much to lose to risk rebellion over something as intangible as ideology. Only two things concerned them: bringing enslaved people to the islands in order to grow and cultivate their sugar and tobacco, and then exporting all that sugar and tobacco to Europe in exchange for incredible profits. Everyone else, whether they stood to gain or were cowed by threats of force, eventually fell into line. The political transformation sweeping Italy was still more than two decades from reaching the Caribbean. On the North American mainland, the Italian colonists were establishing their own society, with little regard for the politics of their homeland. They embraced the ideal of the constitution, but there was not even enough authority from Florence to rebel against should they have wanted to. This is no to say that things in the Italian New World colonies were uneventful. The Years of Lead would make their way to the Caribbean as well. Over a period stretching from spring to autumn of 1677, a number of Italian merchants in the Caribbean were assassinated, most of them agents of the great plantations or of the major trans-Atlantic trade houses. The most brazen attack occurred in the colonial capital of Forte Della Palma itself. On 27 November 1677, Eliano Donato, Urdino Siani, and Fabrizio Moresco, all agents of the Compagnia della Guinea, were murdered along with several of guards in the employee of the company. The identity of their killers was never discovered. When news of this and the other killings reached Florence, the rumor mill was quick to begin churning. The Spanish and the British were both immediately accused in the next open session of parliament. Some whispered of potential French involvement. Others, more alarmingly, discussed reports from well-respected sources in the Italian Caribbean which mentioned escaped slaves and Scottish “swamp men” operating from the Florida Peninsula as having a role. With so much turmoil rocking the realm, however, even these murder mysteries from across the Atlantic failed to hold the attention of the leadership or the wider Italian public for very long.


The killings of several Italian merchants in the Caribbean occurred throughout the Autumn of 1677, culminating with the Forte Della Palma attack on 27 November 1677.

There were not tense moments even in Italy. In Venice, in the summer of 1677, crowds began to gather in Piazza San Marco demanding greater autonomy for the city. The origins of this particular disturbance remain unclear, but the citizens’ close connections to both Ragusa and Crete likely played a role. At one point, the crowds went so far as to begin regularly chanting “down with the Doge!” The wording of this chant was specific, meant to be provocative yet stay on the right side of the law. No crowd ever shouted, “down with the king.” Though Francesco was also titular Doge of Venice, the anti-Doge chant was claimed to simply mean a request for separation of the office of Doge from that of the king. This was specifically explained in a letter to the king by Silvestro Valiero, Venice’s Magistrato alla Sanità (Magistrate of Health), who headed the committee appointed by the Maggior Consiglio to communicate with the Palazzo Vecchio. The Venetian leadership understood that if they let the populace stray too far toward rebellion, they could trigger a violent response from Florence. In the end, they never questioned the status of Venice as a part of the Kingdom of Italy, thus keeping them on the right side of the law and away from any accusations of treason. This subtle legal dance took place in many of the constituent parts of the kingdom in the coming years. The monarch would not cast a harsh eye toward them. In his writing, Francesco tended to be more resigned than angry at these cases. “La Serenissima wishes to shun me as her leader,” he wrote to his brother Girolamo in August of 1677, “if only I were more skilled a ruler, I could give them what they need and desire.” Regardless of anyone’s intentions, the material conditions for revolt simply did not exist. Appeals to the lost glory of the Venetian Republic would only go so far in a city flush with the profits of Italy’s empire.

There were other close cases that nearly led to serious violence, such as at Comacchio in the province of Ferrara. The city and its surrounding marshlands, a strategically important area due to its abundant salt production and fisheries, was saved from revolt only by the timely intervention of Archimede d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. The matter was particularly delicate because both Ferrara and Comacchio had large Lutheran populations, among the last remaining in Italy, and the former was fiercely protective of the latter both for both economic and religious reasons. In August of 1677, salt workers attacked and drove off two tax officials who, they believed, brought orders to take away their privileges and protected lands and open them up to investment (i.e. takeover) by the large trade houses. The locals, whose livelihood and financial wellbeing depended on these ancient privileges, which protected them from more sophisticated competition, were wary of any outside interference with their way of life. After the events in August, the protesters burned down a few tax offices and salt warehouses before dissipating. More was likely on the way if the crown had not responded swiftly. Using the popular Duke of Ferrara as a go-between, the king dispatched a letter to the people of the Po Delta reaffirming their salt monopoly and closing the region off to outside investment. This minor capitulation saved a more serious problem from developing. The crown was not negotiating from a position of strength, and thus could not risk to push back with harsh counter-offers.

The king and his administration listened and were lenient whenever they could be, at least at home. The uproarious demonstrations in Venice were rewarded with a surge of investment. Through all the difficulties, the vast treasury resources backed by the might of the Medici Bank and Italy’s other financial institutions provided a stabilizing safety net. Cornaro had embraced the Medicean tradition of throwing money at problems to make them go away. The Venetians were rewarded with the construction of a new, massive textile manufactory that brought much needed jobs and income streams to the city. As the Years of Lead wore on, and protests cropped up elsewhere across the peninsula, the crown would try to handle them similarly to Venice and Comacchio. While Francesco and his advisors may have botched the initial response to the revolts, they quickly learned that a pacified core territory provided the strategic depth necessary to reassert control overseas.

On 1 July 1677, Florence was rocked by devastating news. Elena Cornaro Piscopia died from fever at the age of 60. In the days leading up to her death, as Cornaro became increasingly ill, the king became a fixture at her bedside, speaking to her and praying that the fever break. The woman who had helped build the foundations of sustained Italian prosperity was at death’s door and Francesco could do nothing to save her. His presence was a testament to Cornaro’s importance to the kingdom. She died peacefully, though too soon considering her potential impact if she had gone on another decade. Cornaro’s career in government was so brilliant, it is easy to forget she began it by becoming the first woman to ever receive a doctoral degree when she graduated from the University of Padua in 1646. Cornaro continued her upward trajectory gaining acceptance into the Accademia del Cimento in 1647 and, finally, the nomination by King Gian Gastone I to serve as Minister of the Interior in 1649. Cornaro flourished in that role, a post she would hold for nearly three decades, introducing governmental innovations including a modernized postal service and the establishment of the Uffici Pubblici, giving the common people a way to access their government officials. Cornaro was a crucial member of the group that crafted the Italian constitution, helping usher in a new era of enlightened rule. Most importantly, she had spearheaded the establishment of countrywide Sunday Schools following Gian Gastone’s royal decree in 1654 promising education for the children of the poor. This forward-thinking proposal caused a spike in literacy and helped lay the groundwork for a more engaged populace and dynamic economy. Cornaro had transformed Italy and, given the state of crisis the realm was currently enduring, her steady guidance would be sorely missed. The entire realm mourned her loss, particularly the lower classes, for whom she was always a great champion. Florence was a sea of black and the Maggior Consiglio of her native Venice ordered a month of mourning for La Serenissima’s greatest daughter. The University of Padua, where Cornaro had made history, named the new library for her and commissioned a stained-glass image of her. She was laid to rest, as requested in her will, at the Abbey of Santa Giustina in Padua, where she would pray and meditate with the nuns while attending the university.


The death of Elena Cornaro Piscopia at age 60 deprived Italy of a skilled and innovative leader


Portrait of Elena Cornaro Piscopia used for numerous banknotes and commemorative stamps in the centuries since her death


Stained glass window honoring Cornaro at the University of Padua

While grieving the loss of his friend and mentor, and with rebellion tearing his realm apart, Francesco II finally ordered the withdrawal of the army from Piedmont. He explained to parliament that the men were needed elsewhere. Privately, he admitted to his commanders that the futile counter-insurgency plan had done nothing but increase anti-Florentine hatred. It was finally apparent to the monarch that there was no path to success and he relented in hopes of preventing an even greater conflagration. He was too late. With the army gone, the armed bands that had gathered in the valleys to resist the “foreign invaders” and who had honed their fighting skills during the bloody winter of 1676-77 now openly flaunted their defiance. One after another, these groups declared their refusal to accept Florentine rule. Most demanded Piedmontese independence and the return of their rightful ruler: Emmanuel de Savoie (the dynasty took on the Francophone spelling and pronunciation at the urging of Charles VIII of France in 1657). By July, all royal authority outside of Turin had collapsed, and the provincial capital was suddenly under threat. On 1 August, armed groups descended from the mounts and marched into the city. All royal officials were given until sundown to leave the city on pain of death. They promptly complied and that night Alpine shepherds partied with Turin’s borghesia in the streets of the old Savoy capital. Francesco’s Alpine intervention had been a calamitous failure from start to finish. He let his army linger in the mountain valleys, sapping its strength and angering the locals, until withdrawing at the worst possible moment.

The news only got worse. Army morale was crumbling, particularly within the force that had been in Piedmont. Rates of desertion were as high as they had been in decades and recruitment efforts were stalling badly. Then, the person holding the institution of the army together through her skill and creativity, died. Ginevra Toscani, the other great woman at the top of Italian government, died tragically at the age of 53, succumbing to pneumonia while on ship to Cyprus to inspect fortifications and storage depots. Toscani could not match Cornaro’s popularity, nor did she win as much “gloria” as the more celebrated battle commanders like Grimaldi and Orsini. She did the unceremonious background work necessary to keep the Italian war machine operating smoothly. Toscani survived the Cypriot Insurrection as a teenager and came to the attention of Gian Gastone I. She served on his military staff during the Iberian War and impressed the king so much he eventually made her Minister of War in 1658. Her otherwise brilliant career was marred by the sluggish response to the rebellions in general and the disaster at Cairo in particular, though it is difficult to assign her blame for either. Like Cornaro, she was a creative thinker who could adapt easily to changing situations. Coordinating and overseeing the continuous supply of food and material to Francesco II’s Holy Land expedition was doubtlessly the high point of her time as Minister of War.


Death of Ginevra Toscani


It did not take long for the cracks in the army's facade to start to show after Toscani's death. As a temporary successor to Toscani, Francesco II prevailed upon his good fried Vittorio Orsini to take the post of Minister of War. Orsini, who had no interest in getting involved with the tedium of managing supply stores and coordinating troop allocations, agreed on the condition that the king find him a deputy to do the bureaucratic side of the job. Still just 40 years old, Orsini could now make the claim to be the most powerful man in Italy after his sovereign. The Duke of Bracciano and Spoleto was already extremely wealthy from his extensive landholdings, could call upon the favor of the King of Italy and the Pope (Innocent XII was his uncle), and, with Grimaldi’s retirement, became undisputedly the most skilled and most popular officer in the army. He received the new of his appointment as Minister of War while with his army at Bari, where they were preparing to depart for the Holy Land, on a mission to squash the rebellions in both Palestine and Egypt. His force was larger than Barberini’s Armata d’Egitto had been and, unlike his deceased fellow Roman, Orsini had plenty of experience leading campaigns. “The Hero of Constantinople” had missed out on the capture of Jerusalem during the Great Crusade, but now relished the chance to make a triumphant entry into the holy city. He would not have to wait long.

In Palestine, the rebellion was beginning to fracture. In the sixteen months since the purging of Jerusalem’s royal authorities, the Committee of Seven had forged ahead with the creation of a de facto state. As they cleared out a few scattered pockets of old knights from the Livonian and Hospitaller orders sent to administer their provinces, they continued to bicker over the direction of their state. Husayn Pasha remained committed to a reunion with the Ottoman Empire, but he was losing much of his support yet. He remained indispensable thanks to his wealth and organizing abilities. The commander of the Palestinian armed forces was one of Husayn’s allies: Inal Ohrili. Aabid al-Mian also remained on Husayn’s side, but this only made the Sunnis look more isolated. Antony Jarweh and Zahir al-Nassar had joined Galante on the pro-reconciliation side, while Yousef Khoury had left the reconciliation faction to join Patriarch Dositheos in favoring a course of independence. All of them awaited the inevitable Italian response, though they did not know what to do to protect themselves against it. Husayn Pasha and Ohrili had grown their army to over 45,000 men, but its quality was unclear and there was little confidence they could repel a serious Italian expedition to the Holy Land. Husayn Pasha finally gained the approval of the Committee to travel to Cairo and negotiate with Baibars to form an alliance.

Husayn Pasha arrived in Cairo on 21 September, as Orsini’s army was being ferried across the Mediterranean. The suave businessman brought with him an impressive retinue and presented himself at the Citadel of Cairo wearing an elaborately embroidered caftan, a large turban on his head, and dripping with jewels. Baibars met his counterpart dressed only in a flowing robe of plain linen. This was the first sign that any notion of Egyptian-Palestinian cooperation was little more than a dream. While the talks remained cordial, Husayn Pasha could secure little more than vague promises of “support” from the Egyptian leader. Disappointed, he departed Cairo on 2 October, headed back to report on his trip to the Committee. However, he would arrive too late.

The following day, 3 October 1677, Vittorio Orsini and a large host landed at Ashdod. After getting their men and supplies ashore, they departed the following day, marching east directly toward Jerusalem. Ohrili and his army were northwest of the city, but word of the Italians’ imminent arrival caused them to break camp and retreat eastward. Ohrili was unsure of what he was facing and, despite his organizational skills, had little real experience of warfare. Orsini pushed his men hard, and they reached the gates of Jerusalem on the morning of 8 October. With their army fled and no real defenses to speak of, the leadership in the city was faced with a choice. With Husayn Pasha missing, and the general he appointed having seemingly turned tail, the rest of the Committee got their chance to act. Galante and Dositheos rode out to meet Orsini, and the patriarch, the rabbi, and the general reached an agreement. The locals would open the gates to Jerusalem in exchange for a promise that no harm was to come to the city’s inhabitants. Most of the residents still remembered the horrors of 1672, when the crusaders brutally sacked the city and massacred many of its inhabitants and were thus justifiably alarmed at the approach of another Italian army. However, Orsini was prepared to once again use negotiations to win the day. He agreed, promising the pair of religious men that no harm would come to the city. The gates were opened and the Italians kept their promise, making camp outside the walls. Orsini, as part of the agreement, allowed one regiment at a time to pass through the city and to pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On 12 October, six of the seven members of the Committee voted to accept the return of Italian royal authority, and in return they were granted pardons by Orsini. Only Husayn Pasha, who was not in the city, remained at large. When Pasha learned of the capitulation, he raged against his Committee colleagues for betraying their cause and surrendering too easily. The loss of Jerusalem put the rebels in a nearly untenable position, but with 46,000 men under arms in the hills, the remaining leadership vowed to soldier on. They still hoped for an intervention from the Ottoman Sultan, though they hoped in vain. Even if he had wanted to, Selim’s hands were tied by his recent truce with Italy that concluded the Great Crusade. Furthermore, Istanbul never fully trusted the Palestinian rebels and were horrified to know of their outreach to Baibars.

Having retaken the Holy City, Orsini now set out to annihilate the last remnants of rebellion in Palestine before turning his attention to Egypt. Despite being outnumbered more than two-to-one, the Roman general pushed his troops to aggressively pursue their foes, and the Italian cavalry preyed on rebel stragglers as Ohrili tried to maneuver his army to an advantageous position. On 27 November 1677, Orsini finally trapped his target “on the coast south of Ascalon, where the Italians inflicted a great slaughter on the Levantine rebels.” In truth, the battle was a much tougher, bloody affair. The Palestinians resisted fiercely and inflicted heavy casualties before they finally broke. After that, most of the rebel force was massacred, with the survivors either scattered or captured and sold into slavery. The slave traders, both Muslim and Christian, were prepared in advance regardless of who won, knowing there was always going to be a steady supply of new captives following any battle of such magnitude. Having recovered Jerusalem and smashed half of the Middle Eastern uprising, Italy’s most popular general prepared to move west and succeed where his rival Demetrio Barberini had failed. Orsini’s masterful combination of leniency toward Jerusalem and ruthlessness toward anyone who remained hostile, would serve to blunt the spirit of revolt in the region, and even when new favorable opportunities for rebellion would present themselves again, the Levant would remain quiet and loyal.

The recapture of Jerusalem was welcomed with joy in Florence, Rome, and the rest of Italy. Still, it would provide only mild improvement in the mood of the court and country. The winter of 1677-78 brought new miseries. Turmoil and instability across the realm were causing a spike in prices. The government’s usually reliable food stores, used to fight off famine in lean years, were exhausted following the titanic logistical efforts involved in the Great Crusade and, immediately after, the extended anti-rebel campaigns all over the Mediterranean. Keeping the men fed as they crisscrossed the sea putting down uprisings taxed even a network as strong and efficient as the one established by Ginevra Toscani and Elena Cornaro Piscopia. For the first time in decades, the specter of hunger loomed over significant portions of the Italian population. The records left behind for these years show the usual uptick in related misery indicators: high bread and dairy prices, a rise in deaths, more orphan children being left at convents, etc. A variety of economic factors were also causing an inflation crisis. It began to look as if all the gains made in standards of living under Gian Gastone I were being undone. “Are Jerusalem and a Constitution worth the economic hardship for the people?” asked a pamphlet printed in Milan that winter. Parliament was up in arms too but could not reach a consensus on solutions. Corruption was on the rise as men took advantage of loopholes in the new constitutional laws and sought to asset themselves through new means.


Imperial overextension, the introduction of new laws, and a time of economic downturn led to a spike in corruption

Within Tuscany proper, proximity to the capital and high levels of development largely prevented the backslide into a barter economy beset by corrupt officials. However, further from the political center, local powerbrokers reasserted themselves. “A traveler can barely go a day's ride without encountering a toll or tax levied by men whose only authority is being present and armed in the spot where they are standing,” stated Adelmo Mazzarese, an Interior Ministry official who produced the report Corruption and Lawlessness in the Provinces (1677), commissioned by Cornaro in one of her last official acts. “Petty barons claim ancestral rights to charge tolls on roads built entirely by Crown funds,” Mazzarese went on, “and they operate their own mock-tribunals, dragging before them any unfortunates who dare resist and levying even more fines and hardship upon them.” The very rights that were supposed to be guaranteed by the constitution were being used to exploit the people they were meant to protect. The ideal of constitutional government required an honest, professional, and trustworthy judiciary. The vague language around courts in the constitution was being readily taken advantage of. What the king and his idealistic advisors (even Cornaro, in a rare moment where she lacked foresight) had failed to foresee, is that without strict codification of the judiciary, anyone could form a court. Thus, anyone wealthy enough to hire a few men with law degrees (and even this was often not even necessary) could convene a tribunal and reach a legal decision. This was of course disastrous for both the people’s trust in the new constitutional regime and the functioning of local economies. Writ large, this crisis of the courts led to a breakdown in domestic trade networks that threatened the normally secure supply of food.

With the regime in a vulnerable position, one of the realm’s most powerful factions was positioned to take advantage. The great slave traders and planter families of the Italian Indies were primed to gain influence and power in exchange for backing the royal cause. They spent the years of turbulence showering gifts and donations upon the capital, making themselves indispensable to the king and his government. They rapidly bought the loyalty of a large number of deputati, forcing Francesco to rely upon them to pass any meaningful laws that required parliamentary approval. Their money funded the expansion of roads and neighborhoods in the capital, allowing Florence to continue her rapid population growth. The sugar and tobacco barons also financed Italian schools, improved her ports, and funded the opening of numerous uffici pubblici. The patrons’ names included a who’s who of the great slaver dynasties: Cavalcanti, Fattinanti, Balestrazzi, Graciliano Altimari, Gori, Moneglia, Mastandrea, and others.

The king did manage to have parliament agree to his chosen successor for Cornaro at the Interior Ministry: Maurizio Pallavicini. Born to the Neapolitan branch of the aristocratic Pallavicini family in 1640, Maurizio became friends with Francesco during the latter’s time living in Naples. Pallavicini was a noted natural scientist, having done extensive research on Italy’s flora, with a particular attention to staple grains. He had even been given a professorship at Rome’s prestigious La Sapienza on the strength of his work. However, his only experience with the Interior Ministry was as a consultant on certain agricultural projects. Still, this was not necessarily disqualifying. After all, the king’s father had struck gold when he appointed a celebrated academic to the post of Interior Minister and had been rewarded with a steady and prosperous reign. The new Minister of the Interior, however, would not be able to replicate his predecessor’s success. He was immediately greeted by hostile subordinates, who were angered at not having one of their own picked to head the ministry they staffed. While Cornaro was also an academic, the Interior Ministry was a relatively small-scale operation with a small staff when she started. In 1650, the ministry employed 15 people, by 1675, it had over 400 employees and had transformed into a massive bureaucratic operation, with offices of some sort in dozens of cities and towns. Cliques and factions had developed among the staff over time, requiring a skilled leader to manage. They had all respected Cornaro for her achievements, her leadership, and the fact that she had essentially built the institution. The out-of-his-depths, uncharismatic Pallavicini, on the other hand, would struggle to manage his own office, let alone the administrative needs of a burgeoning kingdom.



Maurizio Pallavicini was a brilliant scientist, but he struggled to replicate Cornaro’s success at the Interior Ministry

With his support in parliament hanging by a thread, Francesco II was forced to cave on all sorts of other issues. This also meant paying increasingly handsome stipends to keep parliamentarians happy and pampered. In fairness to them, conditions in late Seventeenth Century Florence were not exactly ideal. The city’s burgeoning population, filth, vermin, tight medieval streets, and suffocatingly stagnant summer heat made life uncomfortable, particularly for those used to the open air of the countryside. “Rats, fleas, mites, mice, everywhere one turns one is assaulted by vermin!” fumed Enrico Bertolucci, representative from Parma. “The city is a veritable cesspool of filth,” complained Giovanni Abbiati, of Milan. The Florentine populace, for its part, treated the parliamentarians from across the country the same way they would local political figures or even their beloved calciatori, the heroes of Florentine-style football. Those they favored, like the obese and irreverent Enzo Bentivoglio of Bologna, were beloved by the locals. Known to be openhanded with his money, so freely spending to have a good time that the common tale was that “Bentivoglio never has to pay for a drink, for he never lets anyone about him pay for their meals.” Others, like the stuffy, effete Abbiati or the frugal southerner Dodato Massarelli, were openly heckled in the street.


Parliamentarians often complained of Florentine living conditions

The urban geography of Florence was to have an important impact on the future of Italian politics, particularly in the early years of the constitutional era. Unlike the Valois in France, the Medici kings did not retreat to a country palace to be free from the whims and wrath of the commons. Instead, the tight streets and dense urban core of the Italian capital lent an intimate feel to any proceeding. The arrival of parliamentarians at the Palazzo Vecchio looked little different from a meeting of the Assemblea in the Fifteenth Century. Even the king, whose commute took him to work via the more discreet Vasari Corridor, was compelled to regularly greet and interact with the public. When the people were enraged, Francesco II was surely happy his ancestors had commissioned the great artist and architect Giorgio Vasari to build the secure passageway between the Palazzo Pitti and the Palazzo Vecchio. The royal party was at least able to avoid the jeers of the angry crowd. The deputati were not so lucky. On one occasion, following a defiant speech against increasing funding for the veterans’ welfare organization Ordine dei Cavalieri di Gerusalemme, Orlando Macaluso of Palermo was pelted with rocks by angry laborers, many of whom were veterans of the crusade. Sometimes the crowd was angered by more petty reasons. Quinzio Zorzi of Venice learned this after he claimed in a speech on the floor of the camera that while Florence was the political capital, his native Serenissima was the cultural and economic capital of Italy. Angry Florentines gathered outside to denounce him, rotten fruits and vegetables at the ready, until the wily Venetian escaped the Palazzo Vecchio by emerging onto the roof in the rear and climbing down a rope.

These relatively minor disturbances were soon to be overshadowed by more momentous events in Egypt. Fresh off his victory over the Palestinians, Vittorio Orsini prepared to finish his campaign by destroying the Caliphate built by Muhammad Baibars and his followers. However, the Egyptians had not been standing by idly. The army that had annihilated Demtrio Barberini and the Armata d’Egitto had only gotten stronger. Over the course of a year, they had trained and prepared for what the inevitable Italian campaign to come. The Egyptian cavalry, an eclectic medley of different animals and fighting styles when they faced Barberini, was now organized by specialization. In this case, they did have the Palestinians to thank for making the job easier. The bloody campaign to exterminate the rebels had sapped significant strength of the Italian army, leaving Orsini with a degraded force with very limited cavalry. The tough march across the Sinai Peninsula only further thinned their lines by attrition. As the Italians moved west they crossed open stretches of desert that left them vulnerable to attack. Baibars knew this and took advantage. Brimming with confidence he led his men out to meet the enemy and struck Orsini’s force in a rugged, desolate stretch about two days’ ride east of Cairo. With 14,000 mounted warriors at his disposal, Baibars unleashed a swarming whirlwind on his foes, as his camels and horses charged in and pulled back repeatedly, inflicting grievous casualties each time. Within a few hours, the 10,000 strong Italian army had been whittled down to a small pocket, surrounded on a ridge. It was here that Orsini and his soldiers who remained made their heroic yet doomed final stand. They knew their likely fate if they surrendered, and most of the men went into the battle with the understanding that they would fight to the last man should the day not go their way. Their general had likewise resolved not to suffer the same ending as his rival Barberini, he had been tortured and humiliated before his execution. Thus, they grimly fought on, even when Baibars wisely called back his cavalry and instead began pulverizing the Italians with repeated volleys of close range cannon fire. In the end, the final group, with a wounded Orsini among them, was surrounded and cut to pieces. The general never faltered, one eyewitness with the Egyptians later reporting that, “he was among the last to fall, leading his men until the end.” One of Baibars’ lieutenants, Saadiq el-Shad, who led the final charge, reported seeing Orsini, “running through with his sword the first five or six men who attacked him, and killing another two with pistols.” He concluded his report by stating, “only after he was shot several times, were my men and I able to get close enough to finish our work.” Regardless of their extraordinary gallantry, Orsini and his men had become the second Italian army to be wiped out in Egypt in barely over one year. The legitimacy of the Egyptian Caliphate was now unquestioned. They had twice defended their state from invasion, and no end to their rule appeared to be in sight. Following this new vicrtory, Baibars’ regime accelerated the implementation of the fundamentalist religious policies in Egypt, and prepared to move against the last two cities in Egypt outside their grasp: Alexandria and Rosetta.


Orsini’s reckless march on Cairo led to a second Italian military disaster in Egypt in just over a year

The news of this fresh calamity rocked Florence even harder than the last one. The first defeat had surely been a fluke, but now, there was no explaining away this one. Italy’s greatest hero, the idol of young boys, the romantic fantasy of ladies, and the subject of bestselling novellas, had been killed and defeated. The promising young commanders had failed, so the king turned back to an old hand: Carlo Grimaldi. Could the faithful old soldier work his magic yet again and pacify the lands he had so recently conquered? At Mitidja in 1675, he crushed a Tunisian rebel army with three times his numbers. Surely, he could do it again. Despite an openly stated desire to remain retired, Grimaldi accepted his task and set to work fixing the rapidly deteriorating Italian army. In his absence, the discipline and rigor had faded away and the same force that had smashed the might of the Ottoman Empire only a few years before, was a shell of its former self. However, there was to be no revival under the guidance of Carlo Grimaldi. While in Campania with his men, the old soldier died in his sleep on 26 March 1678 at the age of 77, his final mission left unfinished.

The king, slipping further into the depths of melancholy, spent his days reading books, drinking wine, and smoking tobacco and cannabis. “It is as if he thinks to find the answer to his problems in one of those books or at the bottom of one of those bottles,” lamented Queen Maria Maddalena to Simonetta Pazzi. Even the arrival of new books brought sad tidings. The delivery of Baruch de Spinoza's recently published Ethica also brought news of the great philosopher’s death. The Jewish theologian was persona non grata in both the Catholic and Jewish communities for his “heretical" beliefs. Still, drawing from scholastic theology and its offspring, rationalist philosophy, as well as from Jewish thought, Spinoza was able to construct his argument precisely because he had encountered both traditions and was living a life outside religious or institutional control. He identified God with nature and elaborated an ethics of living morally within and through nature. Most powerfully, he concluded that morality lies in doing good simply because it is good. Francesco had longed to engage in a correspondence with him, or even invite him to Italy, but never was able to make the connection. The king had, on his own accord, written the chief rabbis in Rome and Venice on Spinoza’s behalf, asking to have the Amsterdam Jewish community to readmit him. There is no record of any response from either.

It was in the midst of this terrible period that Queen Maria Maddalena gave birth to a daughter. The baby was the royal couple’s first since Francesco’s return from the Holy Land and brought a small ray of hope to the court. Princess Maria Angelica dé Medici, whose illustrious career would one day leave an indelible mark on the future of the Americas, was able to win the love of the court almost immediately. “A strapping young girl,” stated the poet Vincenzo Leonio, “whose countenance could well have been painted by Botticelli or Perugino.” The queen, who relished participating in the governance of the realm, was back to attending meetings of the royal council a little over a month after giving birth. “With Elena and Ginevra gone,” she told Simonetta Pazzi, referring to the two recently deceased ministers, “I have to get back to work to make sure the men don’t muck everything up.” Pazzi, who had recently been promoted to dama d'onore (in charge of Margherita's household and responsible for the other dame di corte, or ladies-in-waiting), regularly accompanied the queen and reported her to be “full of energy and spirit,” and that these were, “qualities desperately needed in these dark times.”

Even perfect royal babies and dedicated queens could not obscure the magnitude of the crisis that gripped Italy. A review of contemporary sources, be they diaries, news sheets, pamphlets, or government memoranda, reveals a swift and sudden sense of doom besetting the kingdom beginning in late 1676 and continuing into the next decade. The triumphant tones that followed the Great Crusade disappeared even among those insulated at court. The manifold threats seemed poised to undo a century of Florentine conquests and progress. The people were in open revolt only several days' ride away. All the lands won from the great victory over the Turks were on the verge of being lost. Even Crete, one of their oldest and most steadfast bastions, was in the grips of revolt. Italy was in crisis. The Great Crusade and the Constitution suddenly seemed like a distant memory. Francesco II returned from the Middle East a hero, but three years later people questioned his fitness to rule. The Constitution, instead of ushering in an era of progress, wellbeing, and new rights, had instead made life harder and less certain for the average person. Things were only about to get worse. A port city on the frigid Baltic Sea was about to become the center of a new and devastating storm of war unleashed on eastern Europe; one that would catch Italy and her king squarely in its gale.
  • 9Like
Fantastic update, as always. What an absolute disaster, from triumph to travail in such a brief amount of time.

Very excited to see how much worse things can get for Italy, and how they can extricate themselves!
Italy could recover from this. The parts of the empire that actually make loads of money have remained loyal. The army is mostly on side. And the country itself (the peninsula) is not seeking to tear itself apart.

Everything else is either recoverable or can be safely abandoned to try again another day.

Italy will only really have problems if some European power tries to take advantage...
I am glad the chaos has provided entertainment. This part was not the most fun to play through in-game, but it gave me plenty to work with re: AAR material. The next update will be a bit more externally focused since there is a big war coming (spoiler alert!), but I will definitely keep the focus on Egypt as well. I have really enjoyed writing that part and I will make sure to bring it to a properly dramatic conclusion. There might be some new points of resistance to emerge in the coming years as well.

Personally, I've been in a better groove with writing and I've also had more time to write, which is quite helpful. I am in the US but my job involves working mostly with people from Europe, so I benefit from Europeans' more healthy and easygoing attitude toward work during summer. That being said, I am hoping to get a few more updates done in the not too distant future.
  • 4Like
I have just now caught up, and I await, with held breath, the next chapter!
Chapter 62: The Cruel Wars, 1678-1684



On the shores of the Bay of Riga, the cold, dark waters of the Baltic Sea wash ashore with only a thin strip of beach separating the breaking waves from thick pine forests. It was near these picturesque beaches where scenes of war and devastation would play out. It all began in Riga, the strategically important port that served as the eastern anchor of the Hanseatic League’s great trading networks. It was also the seat of a powerful archbishop and under the protection of a chivalric order of crusading knights. Located on its eponymous Gulf at the mouth of the Daugava River, the city was a major transshipment point for fabrics, metals, salt, fish, and diverse other goods. Its wealth, generated by trade, and its protected status as a fief of the Roman Catholic Church also fueled a significant market for upscale New World commodities like sugar and chocolate. Despite being an ostensible theocracy, the city was in fact cosmopolitan and home to numerous religious minorities. Due to its status as a trade hub, the merchant class, including many hailing from the large Protestant minority, wielded considerable influence and say over politics. This idyllic, multicultural place was soon to be swept up in a new wave of European Great Power conflict.

The protection and independence of the Archbishopric of Riga was the responsibility of Catholicism’s great bastion in the east: the Livonian Order. These were the successors to the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, fanatical German crusaders sent to introduce the teachings of Christ to Baltic and Finnic pagans. These peoples were then given the simple choice to convert or die. Most famously, the knights’ plans to subjugate the Orthodox lands of Russia were thwarted by Prince Alexander Nevsky of Novgorod at the Battle on the Ice in 1242. Still, by the end of the Northern Crusades (c. 1147-1410), the shores of the Baltic were firmly within the domain of the Holy See. The knights were reestablished as the Livonian Order and charged with maintaining Catholic power in northeastern Europe. This they did with ruthless ferocity, especially when the Reformation and ensuing Wars of Religion tore across the region like wildfire. Eventually, with relaxation of Catholic-Protestant tension, particularly following the Catholic League’s decisive victory in the Germanic War and the subsequent end of the Counter-Reformation, Rome pushed a more tolerant position toward Lutherans, a policy that was adopted by the moderate and easygoing Landmeister Johann Kettler (r. 1644-70). Kettler’s successor, however, would not follow in his footsteps. While the Papacy’s attention turned toward crusading in the Holy Land, the new Landmeister, Hermann von der Recke, was eager to bring the zeal of the holy warrior back to the Baltic. A younger son of the Duke of Courland, von der Recke joined the brotherhood at a young age and steadily ascended the ranks. A veteran of numerous campaigns, he had a commanding presence and the respect of his fellow holy warriors. A religious fundamentalist, he immediately resumed the persecution of Protestants upon his ascension to head of the order in 1670. Religious minorities received a brief reprieve when he set off with a small force to join the Great Crusade, intent on helping capture Jerusalem. He and his men instead ended up slogging through the Balkans fighting under the King of France, reaching Anatolia before returning to their headquarters in Fellin in the autumn of 1674. From there, he resumed the Order’s attack on “heretics and apostates” with newfound vigor. These repressive policies in turn fueled the ire of German Lutherans, including a number of influential princes. This was particularly true of the Wratislaw VI von Peglows, Duke of Pomerania, who hated von der Recke for both religious and dynastic reasons.


Landmeister Hermann von der Recke

The biggest threat to Riga and the Order, however, lay to the east. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania had been a major power in Eastern Europe for centuries, but the ambitious Grand Duke Kazimieras III had larger aspirations: he wanted to build a great global empire in the style of France, Italy, Spain, and Great Britain. He also had big shoes to fill. His father, Jogaila II, had been known as a great warrior who conquered huge swaths of the steppes. He either drove out the tribes of the horse lords or brought them under his rule, in the process extending Vilnius’s reach all the way to the shores of the Caspian Sea. To achieve his own imperial vision, Kazimieras needed a grand port with shipyards capable of building a great fleet. Though he was not particularly devout, he took pride in leading the major Orthodox power and competing with the Catholic and Protestant states of the continent. He set his sights on Riga, a wealthy city state whom he felt he could bring under his sway without bloodshed.

In the summer of 1678, Kazimieras sent an offer to Prince-Archbishop Johann IX of Riga: if the city would accept Vilnius's authority, they would become the Grand Duchy’s primary port, and would be granted special rights and privileges to levy taxes and tariffs on imports and exports. He sent the letter and awaited a reply. The Prince-Archbishop received the dispatch from the Grand Duke of Lithuania, pondered the matter, and then responded in the affirmative, with two conditions. The first was that Lithuania guarantee full rights to Catholics in Riga. The second was that Johann needed the approval of the Pope. This latter point, written as if it were an afterthought by the genial Archbishop, would prove to be a matter of contention. Johann was a peaceful man, accustomed to quiet study and scholarly work, rather than battle or political conflict, which he sought to avoid at all costs. However, he was also dutiful and loyal to the Papal State. Whatever the Holy Father’s response, Johann would do all within his power to follow it faithfully.

The Prince-Archbishop was born Johann Schewecke in Danzig in 1599, fifth of eight surviving children of a Catholic Hanseatic merchant family. A quiet, scholarly boy, he naturally drifted toward the Church, a career his family approved of, encouraged, and paid to advance. He travelled to Cologne and was ordained a priest in 1613 at the age of 14. He was present at Arnsberg in the spring of 1614 for the arrival of Pope Alexander VII and the College of Cardinals following their expulsion from Italy by the Medici after War of the League of Sevilla. In the mid-1620s he was part of a group of priests sent to Italy by the next Pope, Alexander VIII (r. 1614-28), to attend universities at the invitation of King Alberto I, who sought reconciliation with the Church and the new papal regime. Johann studied at the University of Padua and at La Sapienza in Rome. While there, the amiable and intelligent priest made extensive and important connections, including among those at the court in Florence. Thus, when Paul III became the new Pontiff in January of 1628, determined to return the seat of the Holy See to its ancient home, Johann was chosen for the group tasked to make that happen under the leadership of Cardinal Miguel Humberto Díaz. The leaders of the Italian delegation at the time, Foreign Minister Folco de Roberti and Cardinal Ascanio Filomarino, developed a cordial and trusting relationship with Johann that helped make negotiations smoother and calmer. As a reward for this service, Johann was invited to join Paul III and the College of Cardinals for the triumphant return to Rome on 22 April 1631 and was made a cardinal himself three years later. For most of the next three decades, he served in various administrative capacities for the Papal State, emerging as one of the strongest champions of the alliance with Italy, which he viewed as vital to maintaining what little remained of the Church’s temporal political power in Germany. During numerous visits to Florence, he even became friendly with the pious and scholarly Alberto I. Finally, on 16 May 1661, at the age of 62, he was consecrated as Prince-Archbishop of Riga, a post he would hold for more than three decades. It was meant to be a comfortable yet prestigious posting which Cardinal Schewecke could ride out for the remainder of his career. The reality was to be a bit more turbulent.

Johann IX usually could afford to be peaceful because responsibility for the military protection of the Archbishopric of Riga fell not to him, but to the Livonian Order, which had an inherent interest in the continuing independence of the Baltic port. Indeed, serving as the city’s military wing had become the Order’s only real purpose. When their agents discovered the Archbishop’s plan, they quickly moved to convince the Pope against granting the Grand Duke’s request. Furthermore, Landmeister von der Recke asked the Pope to declare that any attack against Riga or the Order be considered an attack against the Church as a whole. Pope Innocent XII, already uneasy because of the crisis in the Holy Land, was loathe to cede any Church territory and agreed with von der Recke’s assessment. The Archbishop, upon receiving the Pontiff’s reply, regretfully wrote back to Vilnius declining their offer. The Grand Duke, unused to being rebuffed, did not take the news well. He needed the city and complained endlessly of “effeminate men in Italy dictating terms in the Baltic.” With his diplomatic offer of vassalage rejected, Kazimieras III prepared for war.

He reached out immediately to his old friend: the King of Poland. The Grand Duke was of an age with his neighbor and ally, Henryk II, and the two were friends from their teenage years when Kazimieras spent a half decade in Warsaw. The two powers in general had enjoyed a long and fruitful historical relationship, despite their confessional differences. Not only were the monarchs on close terms, but the deep connections between the respective kingdoms’ nobilities ensured cooperation at various levels of the state and military. They both had bi-cameral parliaments and nominally elective monarchies, though both had become de facto hereditary in recent decades. Having fought together in countless wars, their armies worked well together by tradition. Now, they once again looked set to reshape the order in the east in their own image. In the eyes of Kazimieras III and Henryk II, the Livonian Order and the Archbishopric of Riga were relics of a bygone era who had long ago worn out their necessity. Now, they would be swept into the dustbin of history to make way for the continued ascendance of these great states and to fulfill the dreams of their powerful monarchs.

Still, despite the rising tension, there remained hope for peace. The Archbishop wanted nothing to do with a war, and wrote numerous apologetic letters to the Grand Duke, begging his forgiveness. He even offered Lithuanian ships the right to dock and unload in port without paying any duties or port fees. Unlike their counterparts in the Polish Sejm, the nobles of the Seimas of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were not entirely on board with war either. Mostly made up of country gentlemen, they did not share their sovereign’s desire for a globe-spanning trade empire or the construction of a grand fleet. They preferred to focus the state’s military power on continued expansion to the east, where the seemingly endless steppes opened vast stretches of fertile land for cultivation. It would be the Livonian Order and Poland to tip the scales toward war. Polish hussars began raiding across the border into Livonian territory and sporadic gunfire exchanges between posts along the frontier steadily escalated. As his forces started winning the preponderance of these clashes, burning a field here and looting a warehouse there, Henryk II concluded that the knights were spent and weak and “could be dispatched in a fortnight if necessary.” He convinced Kazimieras III of the wisdom of moving quickly, and without any wasted time, massive armies began mobilizing. The monarchs’ overconfidence in this early stage, would prove disadvantageous in the long run. They and their commanders were expecting a quick war consisting of an overwhelming victory, punctuated by the annexation of Riga. What they remained unprepared for was a long, grueling, meat grinder of a conflict that would push every state involved to the brink of financial ruin and, in some cases, beyond.

Despite their disadvantage in this dangerous confrontation with two major powers, the knights of the Livonian Order were prepared to fight. When he received news that the Polish and Lithuanian armies were on the march, Landmeister von der Recke did not panic. Instead, he sat down at his desk and penned a lengthy, impassioned letter destined to travel to the other side of the continent. The old knight appealed to his and his recipient’s shared religion (“we are all sons of Rome”), crusading bona fides, and martial spirit. He told the story of Riga and the Livonian Order and why they both ought to be preserved. He praised Archbishop Johann IX effusively (“perhaps the greatest man I have ever met”) but feared His Eminence was being misled (“by the honeyed tongues of foreign princes”). Finally, the head of the Livonian Order stated his stubborn decision bluntly: he and his knights were ready to die rather than cede “a single hamlet” to “heretics and false Catholics”. He humbly invited his recipient to join him in “a great and holy struggle.” Von der Recke then summoned Benedikt von Tiefen, his most trusted knight, and dispatched him to Italy in all haste. On the envelope, the Landmeister had scrawled the title of the addressee in large letters: Fidei Defensor.

In Tuscany, a splendid spring was a welcome reprieve for a capital city anxious and despairing over her faltering empire. Riga, the Livonian Order, and the Baltic Sea were as far from Florentines’ minds as the Sultan of Jaunpur. The kingdom was in turmoil as rebellion tore across the realm, Egypt appeared inevitably lost, Piedmont was a tinderbox, and key possessions in the Mediterranean were seriously imperiled. On 10 June 1678, the day Landmeister von der Recke’s letter arrived at the Palazzo Vecchio, the camera debated whether or not to support yet another Italian expedition to the Nile. Though in early 1677 the Presidente della Camera, the king’s ally Giovan Battista Boccabadati, had led the parliament to pass a promise to fund any military operation to Egypt, he was encountering renewed resistance. Callisto Amidei had won over the powerful Giovanni Abbiati and several others of the Milanese delegation to his growing Nuovi Ghibellini party, threatening to undo Boccabadati’s support. The first decade of the Constitutional era witnessed the emergence of a new party system that would establish the belligerent sides for many of Italy’s political battles going forward. Other subjects on the table for discussion that day were a new public works project in Treviso, the granting of full provincial rights to Corfu, and a new round of taxes on northern ports to pay for poor relief in the south. The last issue was the one leading to the most heated debates in the capital, even more than the Egyptian crisis. Crowds of supporters of both sides, representing every level of Florentine society, had engaged in raucous demonstrations with occasional pushing and shoving that the city guard struggled to contain. The expectation across the city, with parliamentary debate set to continue, was more of the same the following day. The streets of the capital were lively late into the evening, with occasional verbal and physical skirmishes between political factions. It was into this tense atmosphere, just shy of midnight, that a rider arrived from the port of Livorno.

The rider was none other than Benedikt von Tiefen, who had stepped ashore that afternoon in Livorno from aboard the Morain, a Hanseatic merchantman out of Danzig. The knight then traveled in all haste to the capital. He was met not by the Defender of the Faith, but rather by his consort, the ever-active Queen Maria Maddalena. Simonetta de’ Pazzi, the dama d'onore, reports that the queen met the messenger in a flowing nightgown of gold and white with her hair “left in its natural state.” The scene must surely have been disconcerting to the old, ascetic knight, who was unused to dealing with women in power. Nevertheless, “he was the model of courtesy,” according to Pazzi, and the queen put him at ease by speaking her native German and relating a story about her own first time in Italy. After a brief chat, von Tiefen handed over the letter, promised to wait patiently for the king’s reply, and bid the ladies good night.


The Livonian Order requested Italy’s aid in a holy war

King Francesco II, the Defender of the Faith, so anointed by the Pope, was experiencing a bout of “melancholy”, a somewhat regular occurrence since his return from the Holy Land and the start of the rebellions. He would alternate between isolation in the Palazzo Pitti and wandering the hills and woods around Florence with a small group of companions. He had not appeared personally before parliament in months, not even on days like 10 June, where crucially important business was on the table. It was said he had spent the day painting landscapes of the Arno upriver from Florence. It is unknown when, how, or with whom the queen and king made their decision, but by the opening session of the camera the following morning, the royal couple presented themselves and Francesco asked to speak. The parliament, already buzzing as a result of the monarch’s first visit in some time, grew into a frenzy.

The king explained the letter, and that he felt honor-bound to answer the call to arms. Yet, he had clearly not yet decided. The deputati looked at each other in confusion. Was the king asking them to decide for him? What power did they have to decide even if he did? In the midst of the scene, another set of men burst into the Salone dei Cinquecento to announce that riders carrying banners bearing the Keys of Saint Peter were sighted riding hard for the Porta Romana. Surely they were carrying an important message from the Holy Father. Everyone seemed to understand the dramatic import of the moment and parliament adjourned while riders were sent out to meet the arriving party. The man demanding such a well-dressed entourage was Cardinal Anselmo Scolari, who carried a letter from Pope Paul II addressed to “il Re e il popolo d’Italia” (“the King and the people of Italy”). Paul III may not have always approved of Francesco II’s populist tendencies, but he was never shy of indulging them when he needed to curry favor with the Vatican’s primary enforcer. Cardinal Scolari met with Francesco and his foreign minister, Giovanni Battista Veneroso, to share the contents of the communique. It lacked the rhetorical flourishes of Landmeister Hermann von der Recke’s dramatic appeal, but the message was largely the same: Church lands were under attack and it was the duty of the Defender of the Faith to protect them. The Church had looked the other way as the king celebrated dangerous thinkers and encouraged the publication of novel and highly suspect cultural and philosophical ideas. In exchange, they expected the King of Italy to act as their military arm and respond when called upon. “In times of peace and abundance,” wrote the Holy Father in his letter, “the shepherd can let the sheep dog wander and roam, but when the wolf is near, the shepherd expects his dog to stay close, and to act when called upon.”

For Francesco, the Pope’s message made the decision for him. Perhaps, if the summons had come solely from the Livonian Order, the king could have demurred, vaguely promising support only after his own realm was back in order. Instead, the Defender of the Faith could not ignore a call to arms from the Pope himself. The king gave Cardinal Scolari his response and had Veneroso re-assemble the parliament. It was late afternoon once everyone was packed back into the massive chamber within the Palazzo Vecchio. Word had gone out that war was suddenly on the table, and throngs of people packed Piazza del Popolo and the surrounding streets and alleys. The situation in parliament was unsettled and uncertain. While parliamentary support was not required, a hostile legislative body could cause problems down the line with the war effort. The king had arrived in the morning, apparently asking for the advice and consent of parliament, only to return in the afternoon with an answer that he reached without actually consulting a single legislator. It was awkward to say the least, especially since marshaling support among the deputati and senatori might be just as important as assembling the armies. The Pope’s voice would carry the day for the king. With no formal parties yet formed and no unified bloc of opposition to a war nobody expected, few individual members of parliament were willing to take on the word of Florence and Rome head on. Not enough time had passed between the arrival of the news and the call to make a decision. Thus, with the word of the church and the state in favor and no opposition against them, the camera and senato dutifully went along with the vote for war. A handful of future war opponents, including Callisto Amidei, walked out rather than vote in favor, but it would be some time before a true anti-war block would form. Nobody stopped the king to ask how they would manage to fight a massive land war and claw back their tottering overseas possessions at the same time. Nobody asked how Italy would pay for such massive and expensive adventures. Nobody asked how war and manpower shortages might negatively affect the economy. These questions, which would come from a healthy and active opposition party, would be asked at the outset of future wars. However, there was no opposition yet, and so Italy trudged into battle without having done the due diligence that made her so successful during the Great Crusade.

The parliamentary theater of the war was a novelty, with new voices weighing in where before the king and his ministers ruled unchecked. Perhaps the most profound impact of the Livonian War on Italy was the great political realignment that resulted not only from the conflict itself, but from the accompanying economic hardship. With no existing political parties in place upon the adoption of the Constitution, the old Guelph-Ghibelline divide was already forming the basis for the parties that were to emerge. However, the continuity between the parties’ parliamentary incarnations and their Medieval predecessors was tenuous at best. The primary source of division historically had been the Guelphs’ support of the Papacy against the Ghibellines’ favor for the Holy Roman Empire. Guelph Florence and the Medici had settled the question decisively by conquering and unifying Italy under their rule and putting an end to any Germanic designs on the peninsula. With the historical issue now a moot point, the two factions found plenty new to disagree on. The crucible of war would be the forge through which Italy’s new political groupings would emerge.

When word of the Italian decision to enter the war reached Warsaw and Vilnius, the reactions were very different. Kazimieras III despaired, and a large chunk of the seimas wanted to pull back from the edge. Even the economic and strategic benefits of a victory, this loyal opposition claimed, would not offset the costs of such a massive war against so strong an opponent. The Grand Duke was not yet ready to give up his dreams of conquest, and the outspoken members were politely told to keep quiet. However, his confidence was shaken. Kazimieras had been preparing for a rather easy and cheap victory. Now, he knew, he was in for a long, brutal slog of a war. In Warsaw, on the other hand, Italy’s entrance into the war was greeted by cheers in the sejm. Much of the Polish nobility still resented the Italians for what they considered the imbalance of the division of spoils following the Great Crusade. The Italians had gained a large new territory, including Egypt and the Holy Land, and most of the prestige associated with the victory. Even Austria, Poland’s hated rival, had gotten more in the peace treaty. Now, the Poles had an opportunity to avenge the insult. Thus, instead of causing Poland to back down from conflict, Italy’s entrance into the war only served to motivate them. The German princes who had joined the Lithuanian cause were likewise unafraid. Ulm, Baden, Lüneburg, and Pomerania would all eventually join the allied cause. The people living in Riga, including Prince-Archbishop Johann himself, had no say in the matter. Their fates were being determined by the crowned heads whose powerful states surrounded them, the ones who presumed to control Europe’s destiny.

As her armies began to assemble and drill for the coming land campaign, Italy was already flexing her maritime muscle. The now legendary Giovanni Battista Veneroso would once again engineer Italy’s victory at sea while his deputy, Admiral Ludovico Castagna executed the plan perfectly. They both understood that Italy’s decisive advantage was at sea and her navy would terrorize her foes for the entirety of the war. Veneroso used his diplomatic acumen to secure a fleet basing deal with Hamburg, a hated rival of Lüneburg. Throughout the summer and autumn of 1678, Italian ships attacked Polish and Lithuanians vessels in the Mediterranean and the North Atlantic with abandon, grinding their seaborne trade to a halt. Italy’s sailors were brimming with confidence after having trounced the previously invincible Ottoman navy during the Great Crusade. While the army would experience a series of crises during the war, the navy would emerge as the so-called Flotta d’Oro, or Golden Fleet, and turn the Baltic Sea into an Italian Mare Nostrum. The navy Veneroso built succeeded spectacularly for the second consecutive major war and was to prove an indispensable safety blanket at the grand strategic level. No matter the results on land, Italy’s strength on the waves guaranteed her a steady stream of supplies all while slowly choking her opponents’ economies. The first decisive battle at sea took place 19 December 1678 in the Gulf of Riga. Admiral Castagna had sailed into the Baltic leading an impressive flotilla of 13 war galleons and 12 galiots who quickly made their presence felt. Joining with galleys and frigates from the Livonian Order and the Archbishopric of Riga’s lone war galley, they smashed the Polish blockade. The Poles, under their admiral Bronislaw Judycki had been strangling the port city as the Lithuanians lay siege from the land side. The Italian victory in the Gulf of Riga reopened supply lines to the besieged city and renewed hope for relief.

With his navy suffocating the enemy’s fleets, Francesco II knew his foes would have no choice but to enter Italy over the Alps. He took a patient approach and established a defensive line along the “Ring of Iron” fortresses on the northern frontier. One of the greatest networks of fortifications in the world, they were to be defended by over 100,000 Italian soldiers divided into three armies plus smaller garrisons guarding the areas in between. The king commanded the western army, the Armata Reale with 32,000 men. In the center, defending Brescia, was Ascanio Maria Vico with 31,000 men in the Armata Lombarda. In the east, in Veneto, was Pietro della Ubaldini with 44,000 soldiers.


The fortress town of Palmanova, an example of one of the Ring of Iron forts guarding Italy

The first to test the fortresses’ power was Hieronymus Falkenberg of Ulm, who crossed the Alps on 1 November at the head of 52,000 Polish and German troops. His invasion of Italy did not make it to the end of the month. King Francesco and General Vico attacked on 16 November in concert in a furious double envelopment, pinning the invaders against the western bank of Lago Maggiore. Falkenberg and his men were outnumbered and outgunned and they beat a hasty retreat back across the mountains before the Italians could finish closing the trap. The king decided not to give pursuit beyond the frontier, opting for patience. If Italy was going to defeat the combined power of Poland and Lithuania, she would have to preserve what little manpower remained. He correctly predicted a long and hard war of attrition to come. The 14,000 men lost at Battle of Arona (named for the picturesque lakeside village near the site of the battle) were already a heavy cost. Still, the victory was immensely important. With his enemies temporarily at bay, Francesco could finally dispatch Ubaldini with the full might of his army to Egypt to deal with Baibars while the king and Vico held the Alpine line.

Egypt had remained top of mind for most Italians, even ahead of the war in the north. The potential extinction of the Archbishopric of Riga, after all, did not matter to the average Italian. Support for the war in the Baltic would remain lukewarm, while the recapture of Egypt was always a popular venture. The economic damage and loss of potential income caused by the ongoing crisis on the Nile infuriated Italian businessmen, while repeated defeats to what was seen as a Muslim rabble hurt national pride. Lurid tales of persecuted Christians regularly made their way into periodicals, describing “the depravity and villainy of the Islam’s rule,” in the words of a news sheet from Siena in 1678. Indeed, Baibars and his followers were going about the business of consolidating their rule. The Egyptian Caliphate carried on, preaching a fiery brand of Islam as it expanded across the country. Still, the hold on certain areas were more tenuous than others. While Alexandria and the other coastal cities had formally surrendered, there was little to no actual Baibari influence. The Caliphate had simply accepted the fealty of whatever council or assembly purported to speak for the city. Likely, Baibars marked these places down for later reformation once he had stabilized his own rule in Cairo. Since defeating Vittorio Orsini earlier in the year, Baibars had turned his attention inwards to domestic matters. He sought to consolidate religious authority in Cairo through a combination of acquiring adherents by proselytizing and making shows of armed force. Much of the city embraced him as a savior. On 16 October 1678, to mark the start of Ramadan, Baibars organized a massive bonfire at the citadel reminiscent of Friar Savonarola’s Bonfire of the Vanities in Florence in 1508. Most of what remained of the city’s upper classes dutifully showed up and contributed their luxuries to the flames. Aside from dramatic shows of pieties, the Baibaris were struggling to establish stable rule. Armed bands ruled entire neighborhoods and bandits raided any caravans in and out of the city. Though the state’s military could respond in some cases, as often as not, the troops were themselves doing the looting. The economic situation was dire and famine a serious threat, particularly among Cairo’s massive urban population. The harsh retaliation that was soon to come would make the situation many times worse.

By 18 December 1678, the entire Armata del Veneto had departed Venice and begun crossing the Mediterranean on their way to Egypt. Unlike the previous two efforts to undo the rebels, this time there were to be no half measures. Ubaldini landed at Alexandria on 10 January 1679 at the head of 50,000 men. This force was more than twice the size of Barberini and Orsini’s armies combined. Ubaldini, a tough career soldier who only reached his high rank at an older age, was also cut from a very different cloth. He was not young and dashing like the two young Romans, but rather grizzled, stoop-backed, and prone to using a walking stick on account of old war injuries. He appears to have had no interest in glory or notoriety, leaving no memoirs or personal records of any kind aside from official military correspondence. Ubaldini was a devout Catholic and known for an ascetic lifestyle; he never married and was never known to consort with prostitutes. He did have one known illegitimate daughter whom he doted upon and had successfully married off to a wealthy, aristocratic officer in his regiment. Tall, gaunt, and bearing numerous scars across his face, he cut an intimidating figure. Most importantly, he was brutally efficient, had no apparent sense of fear, and was not known to make unforced mistakes. He was, after the disasters of the previous few years, the perfect commander to take on Baibars.

The Italian navy delivered its precious cargo efficiently and without incident. After the army landed just outside Alexandria, it did not take much of a show of force for that city, so recently pledged to Baibars’ cause, to switch sides again. The cities on the Mediterranean had always had a more tepid response to their would-be liberator, fearing his austere brand of Islam. The Ottomans had never demanded conversions, nor had they ambitions of purging the land of infidels. Theirs was an aloof, mostly tolerant brand of Islam, which the locals had happily tolerated, while this new movement was something entirely different. Happy to have avoided a taste of the more extreme policies already established to the south, the people of Alexandria threw open their gates and welcomed the new expedition. Two weeks later, Rosetta and Damietta did the same.

It was not just concern about Baibars that restored the loyalty of the coastal cities to the Italian crown. The newly arrived army clearly meant business, and injected confidence in a previously fearful populace, particularly among the Copts and other Christians. With a base to operate from, Ubaldini turned his attention to the more hostile lands upriver on the Nile. Cairo was the prize, but his main purpose was to destroy the rebel army. Baibars and his commanders, understanding the threat they now faced, recalled units of their army that were in other provinces. There was no use in subduing recalcitrant villages if Cairo fell back into the hands of the infidel crusaders. To that end, the Muslim commander reconstituted his full power outside his capital and awaited the foe. In response, the Italians moved to not only defeat them in battle, but also crush their ability to sustain war. There was no time for half measures designed to make the job of ruling Egypt easier later as there would not be a later without a clear-cut triumph. Furthermore, the victory had to be achieved quickly, as the Armata del Veneto was desperately needed for any offensive campaign in Europe. To those ends, Ubaldini and his men devastated the Nile Valley between Mansoura and Cairo, burning fields, slaughtering livestock, destroying farm equipment, and otherwise annihilating the people’s will to resist. The people themselves fared little better. They were subjected to rapine and murder and saw their mosques desecrated. In the short term, the Italians hoped sustained attacks against the population would draw Baibars out of his defensive position. Failing that, it served as a long-term blow to the rebels’ ability to continue resisting even if they escaped total destruction on the field of battle. The Armata del Veneto’s relentless, grinding offensive would sap Egypt’s will to continue fighting.

Baibars’ Egyptian army kept its discipline, and their commander did not venture out to fight the Italians recklessly. Still, they fumed at their inability to protect their people and the Italians went out of their way to make it harder to bear, cutting a swath of death and destruction through the fertile river valley. Unlike the previous two clashes, there was no ambushing a force as large as the Armata del Veneto. Outriders and scouts protected the flanks and the army’s camps were well organized and tightly defended. Instead, Baibars and his men dug in along a defensive front to the north of Cairo, anchored on the right bank of the Nile. Ditches, sharpened stakes, and other obstacles protected their positions and their artillery occupied the best high ground. If the Italians were going to come in force, the rebels planned to meet them in kind. The Christians’ arrival was preceded by a wave of terrified refugees from downriver, seeking the safety of Cairo as the invading army burned everything in its path. Understanding the threat before him, and as the Italians deployed across the field from his lines, Baibars sent a delegation of eight men to attempt a negotiation with Ubaldini. The terms they were prepared to offer, or whether or not they were even considered, are lost to history. The Italians immediately captured the men, bound seven of them together, placed them in a wagon filled with straw, and burned them all alive in full view of the rebel army. The eighth, after watching his comrades burn alive, was promptly beheaded. Ubaldini had a letter nailed into the skull and gave the grisly token to a local farmer to deliver to Baibars. The document was a printed copy of the letter the original Baibars had sent to Bohemond VI after the Fall of Antioch in 1268:

Death came among the besieged from all sides and by all roads: we killed all that thou hadst appointed to guard the city or defend its approaches. If thou hadst seen thy knights trampled under the feet of the horses, thy provinces given up to pillage, thy riches distributed by measures full, the wives of thy subjects put to public sale; if thou hadst seen the pulpits and crosses overturned, the leaves of the Gospel torn and cast to the winds, and the sepulchres of thy patriarchs profaned; if thou hadst seen thy enemies, the Mussulmans trampling upon the tabernacle, and immolating in the sanctuary, monk, priest and deacon; in short, if thou hadst seen thy palaces given up to the flames, the dead devoured by the fire of this world, the Church of St Paul and that of St Peter completely and entirely destroyed, certainly, thou would have cried out ‘Would to Heaven that I were become dust!’

At the bottom, written by hand, were the words, “Despair, for we bring the end of days.” Now, the message to the defenders of Cairo was clear: no quarter was to be given. The Italians knew not to expect any from the other side: the fates of Barberini, Orsini, and their men spoke the truth of that. But now, they were prepared to strike their own blow.

Up to that point, the Egyptians had been able to use their overwhelming numerical superiority to overwhelm and annihilate their foes, as Barberini and Orsini had learned to their despair. Though they still had a slight advantage of a few thousand men, the Italian force was too large to handle in a similar manner. The change in situation, or perhaps the understanding of just how daunting a prospect he faced, caused Baibars to hesitate. Instead of attacking ferociously, as he was known to do, he sat back and waited, hoping to bring the Italians into his grasp. He also perhaps overestimated the advantage of engaging his foe in hand-to-hand combat. His troops were brave and fierce fighters, but they lacked the discipline of the professionals on the other side. This was made clear early when a large charge of sword and lance-wielding Egyptians managed to get in close with a block of infantry anchored by the Lance Lucchesi and the Reggimento Sant’Anselmo, only to be promptly cut to pieces by a bayonet counter-charge. The battle remained hard fought, but in the end, the Egyptians were routed.



Battle of Cairo

Baibars himself met an unceremonious end. He was shot in the face with a pistol by Quinzio Cassano, a cavalry officer in the Reggimento San Nicola of Bari. Cassano, who shot Baibars when the latter attempted to seize the reigns of his horse in order to flee. He was identified because, among other possessions, he still had the blood-spattered letter from Ubaldini in his possession. With his death, any hope of reconstituting the defeated rebel army died with him. His most fervent acolytes had fought longer and harder, and thus died in higher quantities, than his less enthusiastic adherents. The thirst for a new and more vibrant strand of Islam would long outlive Baibars, but this manifestation of zeal was at its end. The Italian army was there to suffocate resistance and reimpose the existing order. Those that were not killed on the battlefield would be slowly rounded up and sold to the Tunisian and Yemeni slave traders who waited eagerly to profit from the demise of one of their harshest critics.

With the rebel army destroyed, Ubaldini was free to begin the siege of Cairo. The city was still well defended behind formidable fortifications. However, the end of the rebellion was in sight. Food stores were scarce and with the large number of people within the walls starvation would not be long in coming. Furthermore, even if by some miracle the scattered rebels were to mount a relief, there would be little left to feed the survivors. The Italians had been picking the countryside clean to feed themselves and destroying everything else. It would take 139 days, but the besiegers were able to get the gates opened and they overwhelmed the garrison after a quick, sharp fight. What followed were three days of horrific slaughter. Cairo, already having suffered so much during the Great Crusade and its aftermath, was now subject to a grislier fate. Ubaldini, a lifelong soldier used to the customary pillaging allowed soldiers after taking a city that resisted, did nothing to control his men. The vengeful Italian soldiers unleashed an orgy of killing, rape, and looting on those trapped within the walls. The destruction of Cairo was also meant to send a message: the largest city, home to the most dangerous rebellion, was to be subject to the worst punishment. The crown could be merciful, but it could also unleash horrific reprisals against those who crossed certain lines. When the killing finally ended on 3 August, the Italian general left 2,000 men behind to garrison the shattered metropolis, and promptly marched back north. When his army returned to Alexandria, Ubaldini granted them three days’ rest. By the middle of August, the Armata del Veneto was back to drilling and training until the navy picked them up at month’s end. In two waves, they were shipped across the Mediterranean and deposited right back where they started: Venice. They were just in time for a new offensive, and there was plenty more war to fight.

For those left behind to pick up the pieces in Egypt, the Sack of Cairo created a dire situation. Thousands were at risk of starvation and with all governmental structures destroyed, there was no prospect of relief. Refugees streamed north to the coast or south to Kaffa and Alodia, adding new pressure points to those realms and spreading Baibari ideas into the Sahel. Alexandria surpassed Cairo as the region’s primary city in this period, and it would soon boast a new harbor, a new university, and its own delegation to parliament. The cities on the coast had been spared the horrors of the rebellion, both during its spread and during its repression. Thus, they emerged relatively unscathed. Cairo, on the other hand, would be left impoverished, depopulated, and struggling to recover. The weak civil administration left behind after the Great Crusade, so easily swept aside by the Caliphate, was replaced by the iron fist of military rule. Repression and harsh treatment became the rule until a new round of rebellion tore across the region a decade later. Elsewhere, the same currents that had swept over North Africa and inspired Baibars and his followers were flowing south and west. Most significantly, they would spark the Civil War of Air, leading to devastation and upheaval in the Sahel, and triggering population movements that would transform and feed the slave trade.

Italians looking to get rich already understood that the moment was ripe to profit from the slave trade. An influx of colonists reached new settlements in Gabon in the early 1680s. They claimed to be businessmen, but in reality, they launched raids into the interior to capture unsuspecting victims and forcibly transport them to the Americas. For contemporary Italian apologists of slavery, the fact that the captives bought on the African coast were enslaved according to African customs gave them a moral justification. Barsimeo Altimari, who owned a publishing house in addition to Caribbean sugar plantations and ships plying the Triangle Trade in the Atlantic, commissioned numerous works on why the trade in “heathen” Africans was not only profitable, but moral. In particular, these works grounded their arguments in interpretations of African law. Altimari even presented his arguments before parliament on several occasions, eager to counter those making some noises about abolition.

However, works like those commissioned by Altimari also brought up a central contradiction whose answer opened inroads for emancipation. Namely, if African laws were worth respecting, perhaps Africans were not just savages after all. Early explorers and navigators who initiated the coastal African trade in the 1440s and 1450s treated the African kingdoms with respect. Portuguese officials encouraged kings and chiefs to convert to Catholicism. When they entered the trade in the early decades of the Sixteenth Century, Italian traders were also attentive and sought to develop relations of trust with their favored trade partners. In those early days, color and race did not particularly matter, as whites had to learn to deal reasonably with blacks. For their part, the African coastal merchants and princes thought of themselves as members of a particular people, and not as “Africans”, “blacks” or “negroes”.

As slavery had elsewhere, the traditional African version of the institution had developed in response to a series of important, but rather standard societal questions: what should be done with criminals and traitors; with captives who would simply strengthen the enemy if returned or ransomed; or with the victims of drought and famine who would sell themselves or family members as a desperate survival expedient. According to custom, young men or women might be held as “pawns” pending discharge of some obligation. In case of default the pawn would be sold as a slave. More broadly, slavery was a mechanism by which an outsider was introduced to a new social context. Slaves would typically be transported some distance and might end up as soldiers, concubines, or field workers. This social arrangement, as exploitative as it might have been, bore more resemblance to Medieval European serfdom than it did to the slave regime growing and expanding across the Atlantic. The widespread presence of slavery in Africa reflected conditions in a vast continent where land was plentiful and labor scarce. Enslavement was a stain, but one that could sometimes be gradually washed away by lengthy service, or, so far as women were concerned, the bearing of the master’s children. There was nothing equivalent to the exclusionary barrier of ‘race’ as it became ever more sharply and enduringly defined in the New World.

However, a number of climactic and political factors far in the interior would serve to change the nature of African slavery and push thousands into captivity. First, surviving records from the Senegambia region, around the Senegal and Gambia Rivers, mention at least 15 droughts, with especially intense events in 1639-41, 1666-68, 1674-76, and 1681-84. Exacerbating the disastrous effects of these droughts was political disruption. As with most places, shortages of food and resources were blamed on leaders. Lack of rain was particularly damaging to West African rulers, as “rainmaking” was traditionally regarded as an important role of the monarch. Thus, prolonged droughts called into question a leader’s virtue and legitimacy, and left him particularly vulnerable to religious leaders claiming their own supernatural and/or divinely ordained powers. The Air Civil Wars were inspired by just such holy men. The importation of an ascetic, “purified” strain of Islam, such as the one that motivated Baibars in Egypt, did not manage to completely overtake local customs and cultures, but rather fused with them. These movements first started to tear apart the large and powerful Sultanate of Air in the 1650s, particularly during the regency of Sultan al-Mu’min I (1653-55). However, the intensified period of civil war in the 1670s and 80s started with the rise of a charismatic Muslim sheik who, in the words of the Hausa chronicler Ibeamaka, “claims that he was ‘sent by God,’ and attracts many adherents in the various Wolof kingdoms along the Senegal River by preaching penitence entirely naked, disdaining clothes, with his head entirely shaved, and speaking only of the law of God, of welfare, and of freedom.” The name of this preacher is lost to history, but he helped kick off a war that nearly destroyed the most powerful native state in the region and forever transformed the nature of Islam in West Africa. The wars picked up speed through the following decade as more religious figures with varying claims of legitimacy rose and as the new monarch failed to re-establish royal authority (the Italian invasion into his lands did not help matters). Indeed, Sultan Humad II held little influence outside the immediate environs of his capital, Asodé.


The Sultanate of Air within the wider West Africa region


To make matters worse, pastoral chieftains had used the chaos sown by the religious uprisings to raid the now-unprotected lands of the sultanate. Successful wars could save the prestige of any chief who failed to bring rain. Just like the monarchs of the bigger states, nomadic chieftains were susceptible to internal attacks in the event of drought, but this could be offset by providing their men with booty and captives. In addition, it would ensure that the nomadic herdsmen could take by force, lands favorable to keeping their herds fed and watered. The Sultanate of Air, which had once exercised an authority over these leaders like that with which the Holy Roman Empire governed German princes, now instead became a tempting target. The nomads then came in contact with Europeans as they raided closer and closer to the coasts, and both sides realized they could work to each other’s mutual advantage. Among other things, the Europeans traded muskets and pistols for slaves. The influx of advanced European weaponry into the area sparked an arms race among the lower rung of leaders which then triggered effects further up the chain, as the major kingdoms began to feel the pressure as well. One of Sultan Humad’s early ventures to restore order, an expedition along the Sokoto River, met with disaster at the hands of a much smaller number of Tuareg raiders. The latter were armed with newly acquired firearms while their numerically superior foes were left badly outgunned. The resulting slaughter of the sultan’s soldiers led to a knee-jerk increase in military spending (funded, largely insufficiently, by Sultan Humad throwing his hat into the slave trade) bankrupted the treasury.

Thus, the Italian and Portuguese slave traders who controlled the so-called “Slave Coast” along the Bight of Benin, became fabulously wealthy. Some of the most splendid palaces built in Italy during this era, including the Ca’ Rezzonico and Ca’ Pesaro in Venice, were funded from this trade. Thus, across the ocean, Italian, French, British, and Norwegian plantation slavery came to dwarf the more “Baroque" slavery practiced by the Spanish and Portuguese in earlier days. Instead, the plantations turned the slave trade to its maximum profitability. Of the 200,000 slaves who disembarked in the Americas in the 1680s, over 165,000 went to the Caribbean. A steady trickle of West Africans were also marched in coffles across the Sahara or carried up the Indian Ocean coast to the lands of the Ottoman Empire. Islam forbade the enslavement of fellow believers, but this was not always an effective protection for sub-Saharan Africans. The Ottoman rulers acquired both white and black slaves to staff their administration and military machine. However, the destruction of the piratical statelets of North Africa during the Great Crusade and the accompanying dominance of the Italian navy cut off the supply of European slaves and caused the rebuilding Turkish caliph to lean even further into the acquisition of Africans.

Thus, with pressure applied from both east and west, the slave trade along the African coast flourished and grew. Men and boys in the trade outnumbered the women and girls by two to one. While about a tenth of the captives were children, the great majority were youths and young adults. The Portuguese and Italian traders who spearheaded the European side of these efforts, found that supplies of captives varied greatly in different parts of the coast. Benin and Bonny were the easiest for European traders to reach, but here slaves were scarce and expensive. They also learned which people had a reputation for belligerence and which were considered more on the meek side. The lands around the Gambia (a Portuguese colony) accounted for only about three percent of all those captured but produced an estimated 22 percent of all those involved in shipboard revolts. Elsewhere on the coast resistance was widespread, and the volume of the slave trade was subject to sharp fluctuation. Captives’ resistance raised the slave ships’ labor costs by about two-thirds, which raised slave prices and reduced slave sales in the New World.

The slave ships were the instruments of a terrible baptism for those who had been captured and sold. On major routes losses would average between a tenth and a fifth, but on individual voyages losses could vary wildly. Girls and women were especially vulnerable to sexual abuse. The tightly packed conditions, the close watch of the crew, and the diverse origins of the captives, made resistance difficult, but not impossible. The slaves were usually brought up on deck every day. The holds were often more chaotic than is implied by the tidy diagrams sketched by company functionaries back in Italy. Some of the younger slaves were allowed out of irons to serve food and carry out the slop buckets. In a few cases plots could be hatched, but even these were longshots. The true opportunity for resistance came before boarding the ships. As European demand for slaves rose, the Atlantic traffic could exercise a threat over at least some African leaders. The European possession of ocean-going ships, and of increasingly effective firearms and other weapons, gave them a powerful edge. Even the Italian authorities were aware of their impact. In a memorandum to the Foreign Ministry in 1680, Antonello Ponzo, a government agent observing the operations of the Compagnia della Guinea, reported that “the great quantity of guns and powder that the Europeans have brought here [West Africa] from time to time has caused terrible wars among the kings, princes and chiefs of these lands, who made slaves of their prisoners of war…there is very little trade among the coast negroes except in slaves.” The special character of the slave traffic greatly increased the pressures of commercialization and militarization, strengthening some and weakening others. European traders were also able to monopolize the arbitrage possibilities created by the triangular trade between Africa, Europe, and the Americas. The prices obtained by European traders reflected the anticipated productivity gains of forced labor on the New World plantations, and shorter sailing times to Europe.

After 1680, the overall Atlantic slave traffic grew tremendously. It was at this time that the economic value of the enslaved people sold to European traffickers began to exceed the value of all other goods produced in Africa combined (gold, pepper, ivory, palm oil, and so forth). This increased trade reshaped African communities and polities on a vast scale. There was not a question of African leaders making this or that decision. It was a transformation of large areas, first on the coast and then further inland, under the pressure of both commercialization and militarization, as European traders offered trade goods on credit in order to secure competitive advantages. The people most receptive to the lure of European commercial credit were most marginal to the African communal ethos. Meanwhile, the Europeans “gave as little as possible, seldom investing in enduring relationships of reciprocity,” according to Ponzo.

These conditions set the stage for the Cameroon Insurrection, one of the bloodiest rebellions of this particularly turbulent period and a reminder that the Years of Lead extended to the furthest fringes of the empire. Mai Bukar Aji, titular King of Mandara, refused to countenance the slave trade, beginning in the Autumn of 1678, becoming the most high-profile leader to do so to that point. However, he lacked any real power, being one of the “kings” allowed to keep his royal title in exchange for becoming a de facto supplicant to the slave traders’ regime. In late November, the monarch’s envoys arrived in Città Giardino, the African headquarters of the Compagnia della Guinea, bearing a signed letter. It was written in Italian by the Portuguese Jesuit Modesto Fidalgo, a friend and advisor to Bukar. In it, he denounced the treatment of his people and others “whom you call ‘black’” and appealed to the good will of “the King of Kings”, Francesco II. Silverio Sparacino, the Compagnia’s chief agent in the Niger Delta, immediately ordered the men arrested, against the protests of Ponzo. Despite suffering an egregious diplomatic insult, Bukar had no ability to retaliate on his own. His status as King of Mandara had been allowed to continue because he was so weak. Now, with the Compagnia declaring him a criminal and renegade, even Bukar’s formal hold on power disappeared. Instead, he came to depend on one man: Abdouraman Matuli. Matuli’s birth name is unknown, but he converted to Islam sometime in the early 1670s while visiting Asodé, capital of the Sultanate of Air, and returned imbued with a sense of mission to free the slaves in the name of Islam. That Muslims were also participating (albeit in smaller numbers) in the slave trade seems not to have troubled the aspiring rebel. Much as Fásil Ezana had done in the Sahel and Baibars in Egypt, Matuli returned home and used his social skills to rally an army. Unfortunately for him, and unlike Ezana, the Cameroonian merchant did not have a tribe of born warriors to easily bring into his cause. Instead, he crafted his coalition from a mix of escaped captives, members of tribes who feared falling under the slavers’ yoke, and disgruntled warriors from the various surrounding kingdoms who were disillusioned with their sovereigns’ tacit approval of the trade in humans.

The moment that transformed the movement from one of a handful of similar anti-European uprisings, was the group’s daring raid on the slave depot at Calabar. Having learned of the European custom of celebrating Christmas, Matuli's raiders struck at night, when most of the already-thin garrison were drunk and/or asleep. The attackers slew the European camp guards and rescued several thousands from deportation to the Americas. Many of the able-bodied men among those rescued joined the insurgents.

Thus, by the end of 1677, Matuli had assembled a force of several thousand and prepared to march on Città Giardino. The response from the Compagnia della Guinea was swift and harsh. Unlike in other cases of rebellion, the crown played no direct role in the suppression of this revolt. The regular army was not needed. The colonial force, numbering about 3,000 Italians and other Europeans plus native auxiliaries, prepared for battle. Sparacino gave overall command to Crespignano Simonetti, a longtime enforcer for the Compagnia. Simonetti would not fail to impress his masters back at the corporate headquarters in Florence, nor to earn the everlasting enmity of Italy’s nascent abolitionist movement. The slave regime reaffirmed its status as master of the African coast when they smashed Matuli’s force with ease in mid-January. Simonetti and his men fell upon the disorganized Africans, catching them off guard and unleashing a horrific slaughter. By the end of the day, over 4,000 rebels lay dead at the cost of about 200 Italians and their local allies. Matuli was brought back to Città Giardino in chains, only to be tortured and then drawn and quartered (a horrific method of execution that had long been banned in Italy). His body parts were then distributed to various local rulers to ensure they understood the price of rising against the slave traders. King Bukar was lured to the slavers’ principal settlement under promises of safe passage to conduct a negotiation. Instead, when he arrived, his relatives who traveled with him, including a number of his children, were promptly enslaved before the monarch was unceremoniously beheaded. Thus, one of the greatest acts of resistance against the slave trade was brutally crushed. Still, Matuli’s rebellion kept alive the sprit of resistance in Africa and galvanized a new wave of abolitionists in Italy.

Opposition to the slave regime continued on the other side of the Atlantic as well. On the plantations and in the markets, enslaved people continued their resistance. However, the New World had not yet become the center of the fight against slavery. Instead of being fought in the open, like in Cameroon, the battles across the Atlantic in this period were waged largely in the shadows. The Years of Lead made their way to the Caribbean as well. Over a period stretching from spring to autumn of 1679, a number of Italian merchants in the Caribbean were assassinated, most of them agents of the great plantations or of the major trans-Atlantic trade houses. This of course caused a stir back in Florence. Dozens of deputati (mostly Ghibellines but with a smattering of others) wrote a letter to the queen demanding she “investigate this grievous matter and deliver harsh justice to the perpetrators.” They made sure to add that this was all “in accordance with Article X, Paragraph 9 of the Constitution,” which guaranteed that “the free flow of commerce and trade shall not be infringed.” Maria Maddalena replied tersely in a message to the deputati written in her own hand that, “the complaint you bring to us [about the killings in the Caribbean] does not constitute any infringement of commerce on the part of the state. These are private business matters and in any case within the jurisdiction of the Italian Indies colonial government. The crown will not address the matter further.” Despite these parliamentary fireworks, the issue of slavery, and the New World in general, would have to wait to receive the attention of decisionmakers in Florence. At present, the kingdom remained roiled by internal strife and a grueling war in Europe.


In the summer of 1679, all attention turned to another invasion of Italy. A Polish-German army 61,000 strong crossed into Piedmont in July. Francesco wisely allowed the enemy to pass through the restive province before meeting them on the east bank of the River Sesia west of Novara on 16 August. The in-form and numerically superior Italians handed the invaders a rather decisive and painful defeat, ending the second invasion as quickly as they had the first. It was lost on nobody that the allies had encountered little resistance going through Piedmont, and nobody was expecting them to run into trouble on the way out, either. Ironically, the person in the province who most interested the German contingent was none other than the much-loathed Duchess Louise Charlotte. As a sister of the Elector of Hanover, she was offered protection by Falkenberg, an old family friend. At first, she declined and proclaimed herself a true friend of King Francesco II. However, following the Battle of the Sesia, Louise Charlotte had a change of heart, hitching a ride with the retreating Germans and leaving her beloved son to deal with the still highly volatile situation in the province.



The Siege of Riga and the situation in the Baltic, Spring of 1679

In Florence, the expulsion of the invaders from the north finally seemed to lift the mood a bit. The recent victories along the Nile and the Sesia restored a sense of normalcy and a feeling of confidence not felt since the start of the uprisings. The normally divided parliament even came together to praise “peace in Egypt” (ignoring the devastation the so-called peace left behind). Good news arrived from Albania as well. The king’s brother, Prince Girolamo, had married Luliana Zrinski, sister of Sadik I, Prince of Albania, following the end of the Great Crusade. Girolamo was serving as an advisor to Sadik and helping to build the country’s nascent war ministry following the Italian model. Their son, also named Sadik, was born on 23 February 1679 and in late spring recognized by his uncle as heir. With the sitting prince seemingly having no interest in marriage or children, the path was clear for the Medici family to add the Crown of Albania to their already sizable collection of titles and honors.


The better mood did also come with renewed sparring in parliament over continuing the war against Poland and Lithuania. The Ghibellines, emerging as the clear-cut peace party, urged the king to open negotiations with Grand Duke Kazimieras III to end the conflict. Amidei and Abbiati had won over enough support to at least pass a resolution in which the camera officially recommended the king negotiate a peace deal. They penned a letter to the king outlining their expectations. Hoping their monarch would see sense and use his current position of strength to get Italy out of the war, the Ghibellines and their fellow travelers awaited a response. When it came, they were doubtlessly disappointed. Rather than open peace talks, the king stated his intention to launch a counter-offensive, intended to “strike a decisive blow against our enemies.”


The Italian Counter-Offensive, Late Summer-Autumn of 1679

This fateful decision soon opened a new front in the Guelph-Ghibelline conflict. With the ever-increasing need to import supplies, particularly food, the government was becoming more dependent on merchants to not only fuel the war effort, but also to fend off shortages at home. Nothing would stir up more rebellion than rapidly rising bread prices and the threat of widespread hunger. However, with so much freedom to operate outside the state bounds, many of the wealthiest and most influential trade companies began to shun government contracts to focus instead on importing luxury goods from the Americas and Asia. There was much more profit in the latter trades than there was shuttling wheat across the Mediterranean. The smaller companies falsified their ledgers to avoid taxes and developed convoluted contracts to hide their ownership of vessels from port authorities. Not only could they be charged fees based on the number of vessels they owned, but they could also see those ships seized for use by the state. The Compagnia della Guinea, the most powerful of them all, openly refused to turn over any ships. “All of the company’s naval power,” wrote the company’s 71 year old chairman and founder, Andrea Cavalcanti, “is required to protect our valuable cargoes destined for the Americas from the predations of Spaniards, Englishmen, and Scots.” The “valuable cargo” of course meant enslaved people being trafficked to the plantations of the West Indies and the Carolinas. This latter destination was new, and a result of the early success of the Santee Expedition. Under the leadership of Gioventino Balbi (who would be named the colony’s first governor upon its official recognition by the crown in May of 1682), tobacco plantations were already springing up along the river, creating an almost instant demand for enslaved labor. This growing tension between the merchant classes, led by the slave traders and planters, and the crown, presented an opportunity to the Ghibellines. Cavalcanti went so far as to admonish Francesco II, writing in a letter, “Your Majesty’s father was a champion of trade and commerce and freedom. Your Majesty would do well to heed his example and attend more to the virtuous and less to the idle wretches and heathens who simply drain the crown’s resources.”

Historically, the small but influential urban business and professional classes had been the bedrock of Medici support. Indeed, the dynasty had risen from among their number, and would not have been able to conquer Italy without them. Yet, as growing profits and far-flung trade opportunities presented themselves, their aims began to diverge from those of the dynasty they had long supported. The Great Crusade had been a first sign, when a large chunk of the borghesia opposed the war on the grounds it would be bad for business. The unexpectedly decisive vanquishing of the Turkish fleet by the Italian navy had put most of those fears to rest, but it did not end the tension. The Piracy Scandal of 1672 and the merchant assassinations of 1679 inflamed the situation, particularly with the queen. The slave traders felt at their strongest to move against her when the king was out of the country, and their antagonism toward Maria Maddalena’s regency would color much of the political conflict. She responded with the solution most favored by both the Medici and Habsburg dynasties: drown the problem in gold. She simply increased the amount of money the government offered the traders for their goods. The willingness to pay higher prices suddenly made the crown look like a worthwhile customer again, and ships destined for Cadiz and Marseilles were re-routed to Venice and Genoa instead. Still, this was a short-term fix, and everyone involved knew the government lacked the funds to sustain such high expenses on goods. To make matters worse, declining economic conditions combined with the legal chaos that followed the adoption of the constitution to allow corruption to flourish. This issue was particularly acute in the major port cities, where the incentive to make a quick profit of questionable legality was highest. Thus, there were shortages of longshoremen, shipbuilders, clerks, and other essential workers in the logistical chain. The allure of making money at sea or in the colonies had never been greater.


The allure of adventure and fast money at sea or in the colonies combined with an economic downturn at home to create a labor shortage

With her husband and his army preparing a new expedition, Queen Maria Maddalena had no choice but to find ways to pay. With her ability to raise war taxes blocked by the Ghibellines in parliament, she angled to go after a more specific profit stream. The coffee trade was a highly lucrative business and the caffeinated beverage had spent the previous half century becoming immensely popular in Italian life. Every town worthy of the name now had its own caffé where who wanted it (and could afford it) could get their daily fix. First appearing in Venice in the 1640s, these coffee houses had proliferated tremendously, to the point where there were reportedly over 60 in Florence and nearly 100 in Milan by 1680. Even such a venerable institution as the Society of Jesus was extolling the virtues of the beverage. Coffee drinkers, according to the Jesuit theologian Pomponio Mormino, “should consider themselves blessed because, thanks to this wonderful drink, you leap from your beds and hurry to do your duties, wishing the sun might rise earlier.” In particular, Mormino opined, preachers “need to drink coffee because the liquid fortifies the weakened body, spreads a new vigor, a new life, in all actions, and gives the voice more strength.” The Jesuits’ exuberance for the drink notwithstanding, the Church as a whole had no interest in protecting coffee traders so long as they received a cut of any profits. Thus, once again, the queen found a happy and willing ally in Rome. With the Holy See backing her tariff effort, the Guelphs were able to get the measure through the camera and into the much more Medici-friendly senato. There it was rubber stamped and sent to be signed by Maria Maddalena in her capacity as regent. The tariff was strongly opposed by the Caribbean plantation owners, of course, who were well represented in parliament despite having no official seats. The Ghibellines failed to save the planters from new duties, but, more importantly, a new political alliance was born.


The Coffee Tariff

With so much unsettled at home, the prospect of a new offensive remained contentious. Even with new tariffs, the kingdom lacked the money to pay for sustained military operations so far from home and in so many different theaters. The offensive started well enough, however, putting some concerns to rest in the capital. By October, Italian armies were besieging Budapest and Érsekújvár. Pozon fell to them in November and, just before Christmas, on 23 December, Francesco II and Ubaldini defeated Hieronymus Falkenberg and a German-Lithuanian army in Moravia. After the victory, the Italians made winter quarters south of Brünn. It was a relatively mild season and they were still well supplied, though their lines were increasingly strained. It was a far cry from the horrific conditions they would endure in the same region a year hence. The Italians stepped into the spring of 1680 still confident and ready for battle. The news that Vico and his army captured Budapest on 30 March after a 164-day siege could not have heralded a better start to the year for Francesco. He began his own siege at Szolnok in April while Ubaldini had captured Érsekújvár on 30 May. By the end of the summer, Szolnok too was in Italian hands, and Krakow was under siege. All seemed to be proceeding according to plan, but in reality, their enemies were not sitting idle.

To the north, the Polish-Lithuanian siege was finally starting to wear down the defiant citizens of Riga. The Livonian army was still about 7,000 strong but they had been forced to retreat into the forests south of Riga to avoid pitched battles with their larger, better trained foes. Inside the city, conditions were deteriorating. “The people are tired of the war, of the bombardment,” wrote Marcantonio Schillaci, captain of the war galleon Principessa di Benevento, after going ashore in September, “you can see it in their eyes. They are desperate for rest.” The merchantmen that docked to deliver supplies were now routinely mobbed, with desperate people trying to get up the gangway to get their hands on food. Captains became reluctant to make landfall for fears of having their holds ransacked by starving citizens. Frantic reports trickled into the Italians’ camps begging them to move faster, that the city could not hold much longer. Even with the fleet supplying the city with food and ammunition by sea, it was hardly enough to hold back the massive armies outside the walls. The Polish and Lithuanian artillery kept up a steady pounding of the crumbling fortifications and sappers tunneled under them. Already several sizable breaches had developed, and the small garrison was past the point of total physical exhaustion.


Finally, on 17 October 1680, Archbishop Johann IX emerged from the gates of the city to surrender it to Kazimieras III. The Grand Duke of Lithuania granted full honors and courtesy to the old cleric, but in the end, his terms were unforgiving. Riga was to become a Lithuanian vassal, her port to be the principal anchorage of the Lithuanian fleet. Unlike the earlier offer, however, no local autonomy would remain of ports customs and tariffs, it would be under the complete control of the crown. The citizens, weary of fighting and suffering and dying, celebrated the settlement regardless. “Thank God and the Archbishop!” proclaimed Mečislavs Blekte of the Riga Town Council.

When news of the fall of Riga reached Florence in early November, most of the parliament assumed that meant the end of the conflict. “This means the war has reached its conclusion, and not a day too soon,” declared Flavia Speranza of Milan during a session of the Camera, “now we can turn our attention to practical matters.” The Ghibellines were squarely behind Speranza’s sentiment, with her fellow Milanese, Abbiati, hoping that “we may all learn a lesson from this defeat, and prevent future bloodshed.”

Unknown to them, however, the Italian offensive had continued unabated. On 4 November 1680, just days before the news of Riga reached Italy, Vico captured Krakow after a 141-day siege. Far from admitting defeat, the king and his generals continued in stride. It looked as if the Italians were an unstoppable wave, washing over Poland with nothing hindering their path. However, with Riga captured, the Poles and Lithuanians could now divert their full might to face their remaining enemies. The Lithuanians moved to crush the remnants of the Livonian Order, while the Poles turned to expel the Italians from their lands. The Great Crusade hero, Maksym Skarbek, Grand Hetman of the Polish Crown, and his disciple, Johann Kasimir Schaluyn, crafted a brilliant trap to thwart their adversaries. Italy had the logistical advantage, her sophisticated supply networks usually able to keep pace with the movement of her armies. The Poles, however, used home soil to their advantage. Skarbeck contracted coopers to make barrels to store meat, bakers to make bread, and tallow chandlers to supply soap and candles. Schaylun anchored his position at Brünn in Moravia. While Skarbeck harassed and diverted the enemy, the younger commander was to deliver the killing blow.



Heavy storms hampered Francesco’s movement, allowing Skarbeck to maintain the advantageous position as he screened their movement. The waterlogged roads made life miserable for men, horses, and mules alike, wagons and guns regularly getting stuck in the mud. Having left his artillery with Schaylun and electing to fight with an army composed entirely of cavalry and light infantry, the Polish general had a maneuver advantage his opponent severely lacked. He feigned a siege of Érsekújvár, forcing the Italians to deal with that threat. The powerful fortress was a central node of the Italian supply networks, and its loss would grind the offensive to a halt. Though a real siege would have been impossible for the Poles as they lacked cannons, Francesco and his officers did not possess this intelligence, and thus had to take the threat seriously.

The Battle of Brünn fought on 25 November 1680, would be Schaylun’s finest hour. With his army firmly entrenched in and around the city, they took up an L-shaped position, with about two thirds of his army on a north-south axis east of the town, while the rest took up positions on an east-west axis in the thickly wooded hills to the northeast of Brünn. Well-drilled by their officers, the well-hidden Polish troops held their fire until the Italians were fully engaged. As Schaylun slowly but steadily pulled his army back under pressure, he waited until the optimal moment to spring the trap. Nearly 20,000 men came pouring out of the woods, led by some of the finest hussar regiments, who screamed down on their helpless foes. Within moments, the heavy cavalry was cutting their way through the rear of the Italian formation and falling upon the baggage train. Panic set in almost immediately, and it is a credit to the skill and coolness under fire of both Vico and Ubaldini that they were able to prevent the army from shattering. It was, however, at a vicious cost. Almost the entire right wing had been enveloped and cut to ribbons before the two commanders managed to extract the rest of their troops, launching a forced march south toward Pressburg. They only stopped to re-gather their forces once they crossed the Morava River on 30 November, finally limping into the city itself five days later. After Brünn, it appeared as if Schaylun meant to pursue his recently vanquished foes. Instead, he turned south at Tyrnau and made straight for the King of Italy’s position to the south.

After receiving reports of his comrades’ defeat, Francesco halted his march and turned back toward Érsekújvár. The great fortress there made for a good anchor point from where he could assess the situation and attempt to rendezvous with his other armies. He clearly did not anticipate the Poles seizing the initiative with ruthless violence of action. While Francesco was still trying to ascertain the full remaining strength of Vico and Ubaldini’s armies, Schaylun appeared on 10 December at the head of 50,000 troops ready to give battle. As the uncharacteristically surprised Francesco scrambled to get his men deployed, the enemy struck, driving them quickly from the field and rendering the nearby fortress a moot point. An Italian garrison remained to hold the fortifications themselves, though they would not last more than a few months. The king managed to rally his men after several hours and took what remained of his force west. Despite extensive and detailed correspondence with her on all manner of subjects, after this defeat the king provided only a short, vague update to his wife, responsible for ruling back in Italy: “Enemy struck our position. Withdrew west. Will link up with other friendly elements in the vicinity of Pressburg and make winter quarters. Increase frequency and quantity of supplies.” What those words hid was that the king and his entire army stood on the precipice of disaster.


The Polish army on the banks of the Danube

The Érsekújvár Campaign was a great triumph of Polish arms. While it was not the knockout blow Skarbeck and Schaylun initially intended, it stymied the Italian invasion and guaranteed the enemy would never reach Warsaw. They had snatched the momentum back, building on the conquest of Riga to drive their opponent to the brink. All that was left for the allies to do, was weather the winter, watch the Italians’ strength be sapped away, and then finish the job come spring. The victories should have, under normal circumstances, ended the war. However, the Poles and Lithuanians were not facing a normal foe.

By all rights, the twin defeats should have broken the Italian armies. With Ubaldini and Vico already encamped around Pressburg, Francesco and his men limped in to join them on Christmas Eve of 1680. To make matters worse, a pontoon bridge over the Danube broke, drowning a dozen men and twice as many draft animals. The Poles, either out of caution or exhaustion, did not give pursuit, elsewise it surely would have spelled disaster and potentially even the capture or killing of the king himself. The Italians would endure one of the harshest winters in the region’s recorded history. The Danube eventually froze so solid that men, horses, and wagons could cross it at will. “Winter,” wrote Zaccaria Benigni, one of the king’s best officers and commander of the Reggimento Appennino, “is a merciless soldier, pressing with his full strength. Terrible storms and snowstorms cripple the hands and feet of our men.” Things were just as bad for the area’s civilians. However, the king was determined to maintain good relations with “our gracious hosts” and forbade his soldiers from looting hamlets or harassing civilians on pain of death. The German speaking majority in the city remained largely distrustful of the occupiers, and tensions occasionally flared between Italian troops and German burghers. However, they got along much better with those from the Slovak- and Magyar-speaking minorities. The Italians also recruited heavily amongst them. Whereas several German states were allied to Poland, the Magyars and Slovaks did not share those same loyalties and were often willing to take up arms in exchange for pay and food. All three groups chafed under Polish rule and even though the province now went by Pozsony, there were hardly any Poles there. Thus, by another struck of good fortune, the battered Italian army had to survive a cruelly cold winter, but at least did not face a hostile populace in the process.



The winter could have spelled disaster not only for Italy’s war effort, but for her entire regime. Had the army collapsed, not only would the war effort have been defeated, but the entire ruling structure at home would have been in extreme peril, threatened by invasion from without and dissent from within. The treasury was stretched to exhaustion, manpower was dwindling, and revolt still gripped parts of the realm. The festering crisis in Piedmont was a perfect illustration of how precarious the situation was. Starting in the autumn of 1680, with the Italian army far away on campaign, armed bands once again took to the hills and the streets. With banditry rampant and authority collapsed, prices rose rapidly, and famine soon threatened the people of Piedmont. Instead of blaming the armed groups, however, the people held the hapless and corrupt Duke Cosimo di Piemonte responsible instead. On the night of 5 January 1681, as the streets were filled with rowdy revelers celebrating on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, news reached Turin that the Italian armies had been destroyed in Germany. Some even said the king had been killed. A mob formed, emboldened by these momentous tidings, and marched on the Palazzo Ducale, surrounding it. When Cosimo refused to present himself, the increasingly drunk and hostile crowd began chanting “morte al bastardo!” (“death to the bastard!”), a reference to the duke’s illegitimate birth. At some point late in the night, as the standoff dragged on with no apparent resolution, gunfire broke out, though it remains unclear who initiated it. Regardless, the incensed crowd surged through the palace gates and overwhelmed the small group of guards. They tore through the palace, beating and killing those whom they found inside, and finally discovered Cosimo hiding in a broom closet. He was dragged into the street and beaten to death along with several of his unlucky courtiers. The palace was looted and the situation in Piedmont was as bad as ever. “Instead of peace and stability,” lamented the Ghibelline parliamentarian Bonaventura Errigo, “the king has given us defeat abroad and disorder at home.”

Indeed, Francesco II’s war policy continued to exacerbate all these issues. However, at Pressburg, with disaster looming, the King of Italy also showed his spark of greatness. In his darkest hour, and struggling mightily in his role as monarch, Francesco reverted to the part he played best: soldier. For the typical fighting man, concerns about grand strategy and state finance were never top of mind. More immediate matters, like the ceaseless drilling, meager rations, camp diseases, worn out boots, etc, etc, all took precedence. Under such desperate conditions, the bonds of camaraderie transcended political and class lines, making the king and his high-born officers one with the men they led. It mattered little who was responsible for plunging Italy into war or whether it was justified. What mattered in Pressburg was that Francesco was there to fight and bleed and suffer and freeze alongside his men, and nothing would break their devotion to him after that. With tireless determination, he willed his army to not only survive the horrific winter, but to thrive in it and emerge in the spring ready to renew the fight against their enemies.

The war remained center stage back in Italy going into the spring and the first parliamentary elections. Set for April of 1681, they would be an experiment in democratic government taking place at a highly unstable moment. The early constitutional era saw great ideological shifts as the political parties gained their forms. The war, along with taxation and tariffs, were the first policy issues around which these nascent institutions coalesced. The Ghibellines, led by the bulk of the Milanese delegation, took on the anti-war cause with gusto. They pledged that if they could end the war, the party would slash taxes and return the economy to normal. “Pace e pane” (“Peace and bread”) became their slogan. They reminded everyone how much worse life was now with Italy on a prolonged war footing.

The Guelphs, centered on the power of Florence and the Padania, had a simpler appeal: to the Church, the country, and the dynasty. They were to be the party of the Medici and of the regime, casting the Ghibellines into a state of semi-permanent opposition. The roots of the two parties’ ideological positions were rooted in this struggle. The Ghibellines would come to be the party of free trade, rational thought, bourgeois values, and the Enlightenment. The Guelphs, on the other hand, became the party of state intervention in the economy, rural/medieval traditionalism, and the Catholic Church. Both claimed the mantle of Renaissance humanism and championed the arts. The king, in later years, would occasionally gravitate toward the more intellectually intriguing Ghibellines, but the Guelph party would more often than not remain the dynasty’s bedrock of support.

The Ghibellines’ opposition to the war faced several problems. The first was legal. Parliament could request the king to take a military or diplomatic action, but as the head of state and commander of the armed forces, the monarch retained ultimate authority. They could not even slash the war budget, as such an action required Francesco’s consent during war time. The second problem was that despite some shortages and economic hardship at home, the Italian navy’s complete dominance at sea had kept maritime trade routes open, allowing the government to import vast quantities of food to prevent famines. This did not solve problems everywhere (such as in Piedmont), but it blunted some of the harsher effects of the war, and kept the general populace in most places from bearing too great a burden. Finally, the Italian army survived in the field, and the king was with them. Despite all the kingdom had been through over the preceding decade, nobody forgot that Francesco had been the one to conquer the Holy Land. The petty rural nobility, often impoverished, formed the backbone of the officer corps and the Guelphs as a political institution, and they formed the core of the pro-war side. Faith in the king’s military prowess, along with the Papacy’s enduring commitment to the conflict, ensured the Guelphs would carry the countryside. So long as the government was able to keep large swaths of the population from going hungry, it would be hard to shake the people’s faith in a regime that seemed to at least guarantee their survival.

In the south the parties did not exist in the early days. Many deputati from the south sided with one faction or the other, but they did not campaign in the Mezzogiorno as Guelphs or Ghibellines. To begin with, those factions had little historical significance south of Rome, where a different pre-unification history had created different political traditions. There, patronage and social influence carried the most weight. The exception was in Naples, where the parliamentary seats guaranteed to the commons led to a raucous and eventful election, with more shenanigans in Piazza del Mercato.

In the end, the Guelphs failed to secure an outright majority, carrying 175 out of 365 seats. Furthermore, the Ghibellines’ strong showing, taking 98 seats, put their rivals on alert. To improve their situation further, the opposition party would add a further 19 members from the group of 92 who were elected with no party loyalty, bringing their total to 117. Meanwhile, the other side only added an additional 3 from that same group, bringing their strength to 178. The remaining 70 independents were mostly from the south, though a few northern eccentrics were among them. There was a benefit to being independent or, as would happen increasingly over time, joining a smaller party. The election of 1681 would be the only one to feature just the two major parties, as all subsequent elections would feature three or more parties on the ballot. As the Italian parliamentary system matured and developed, these smaller political entities would become integral in the shifting system of alliances and coalitions through which legislative business was conducted. The first time around, however, the two old guard parties dominated, and the Ghibellines erased any doubts that they were there to stay as a major political force. For the Guelphs, the defeat was not all bad. Parliamentary deadlock was in their interest as they needed only enough to block efforts to end the war. The king and the war party got their way, and the conflict would drag on for years longer. Over the coming decades, wars, economic realities, and ideological differences would continue to drive the merchant class away from the Medici and the Guelphs and toward the Ghibellines.

On the other hand, the Guelphs had the most powerful ally currently present on the Italian Peninsula: the queen regent. With the king away on campaign, the job of piously melting down gold and silver furniture sets and similar luxuries to pay for the war effort fell to Maria Maddalena. In truth, and despite being a Habsburg by birth, the Queen of Italy was not a particularly fervent believer, certainly less so than her two extremely devout predecessors, Michalina and Carlota Luisa. Still, as a skilled politician she understood the role of her office. “I long to wear one of the beautiful gowns that fill my apartments and to dance in an extravagant ball,” she wrote her cousin Maria Josepha, in Wurzburg, “but rough linen and coarse wool are but a small sacrifice compared to those made by our men in the field.” Maria Josepha was herself no stranger to the sentiment. As the wife of the Prince-Elector of Wurzburg, her tiny adopted homeland was involved in the larger German war pitting Saxony against Bohemia for dominance of the Holy Roman Empire. “Thankfully,” Maria Maddalena said often to her ladies, “modesty becomes me.” Indeed, she wielded her popular image like a weapon, backed by the full might of the Medici propaganda machine. She skillfully cultivated positive relations with the papacy throughout her regency, and her virtues were often extolled from church pulpits. In 1681, the Medici Press published Il Frasario di Maria Maddalena, Regina d'Italia, an illustrated phrase book containing a mix of pious exhortations and positive encouragement. Its stated purpose was to teach rural women basic reading so that they may be better at managing domestic life. In truth, the book was a touch more subversive than the Church authorities may have caught on to. For instance, it was recommended women should manage the household finances, allegedly because “our temperate and delicate nature makes us more attentive to detail.” The Queen was featured on the cover, depicted in a print by the artist Giovanni Battista Benaschi as the mythological Camilla, Queen of the Volscians from Virgil’s Aeneid, leading an army of Amazon warriors. The queen deftly maintained this delicate balance, on the one hand championing Church traditionalism and on the other hand advocating for the increased rights of women. They combined to make her extremely popular in the countryside, where many women venerated her as an almost saintly figure. Unlike her husband, who would occasionally fall under the sway of the Ghibellines, the queen was a Guelph through and through, a fact she flaunted openly.

Flavia Speranza, Countess of Pombia and one of the leading Ghibelline deputati, despised Maria Maddalena and would become her chief political rival. The countess pamphlets published critical of the queen’s policies, questioned the sincerity of her piety on the floor of the camera, and regularly referred to her as “the Viennese brat” in private. At first glance, the two should have gotten along well. They were the two most important and accomplished women in Italian public life, and they both championed the rights of their sex at a time when women were still marginalized from power (the recently deceased ministers Elena Cornaro Piscopia and Ginevra Toscani being considered exceptions rather than the rule). However, a thirst for female empowerment was the end of their similarities. Speranza, a dynamic personality and intellect in her own right, was an avowed atheist and skeptic who had been publicly denounced by Church authorities on several occasions. Unlike the Habsburg-born queen, Speranza hailed from an aristocratic but bankrupt family from the town of Pombia, outside Novara. Her mother died in childbirth, and she was her father’s lone surviving child and heir. Speranza eventually charmed her way into a marriage with Bartolomeo Arese, Count of Castel Lambro, an older childless widower who also happened to be the lone surviving heir of his own impoverished noble family. The two were wed in 1651 when Speranza was 16. When Arese died four years later, she became a countess by inheritance and promptly sold off her title and all of their shared properties except for the Palazzo Arese-Litta at the corner of Corso Magenta and Via Nirone in Milan. She took the proceeds from these sales and invested them in the borse of Milan and Venice, eventually becoming a major financier of the Compagnia della Guinea, among other ventures. By the late 1660s she had interests in almost every luxury commodity imported to Italy. She also made handsome profits shipping supplies to Italian troops during the Great Crusade. An owner of large goods warehouses in Venice, Rimini, Livorno, Genoa, and Brindisi, Speranza was considered one of the most reliable suppliers and on several occasions then-war minister Ginevra Toscani made not of her honesty. As the founder and chief patron of the Accademia Ambrosiana, Milan’s leading salon, she was well known in numerous European intellectual circles and greatly admired by natural scientists like Robert Hooke of Great Britain and Anne de La Vigne of France. Speranza was most beloved in high society, however, for her position as a leading light of Milanese fashion, always at the cutting edge of European sartorial trends. In contrast to the queen’s public modesty, the Countess of Pombia oozed luxury, from her grandiose residence, the Palazzo Marino on Piazza della Scala, which she purchased in 1672, to her extravagant collection of jewels, which she regularly flaunted and included an enormous ruby gifted to her by the Maharajah of Kutai. By the time of her election to the camera, she even owned a sugar plantation on the Caribbean island of Santa Martina.

Speranza was a champion of many Enlightenment values including free trade, limited state intervention in the economy, meritocracy, freedom of thought, and the separation of church and state. Though she developed a reputation as a pacifist, the countess’s views on war were more nuanced. She believed Europeans had no reason to fight amongst each other and that all continental wars were follies. She also extended this category to the Ottoman Empire, considering Turks to be, in her words, “peculiar Europeans.” However, beyond that, she did favor colonial wars in the interest of expanding markets and access to commodities. She was a strong proponent of penetrating Asian markets. Speranza was also a strong supporter of the slave trade, which she profited from handsomely, and justified as “vital to the commerce and civilization of the realm.” She and her Ghibelline colleagues, Giovanni Abbiati, Callisto Amidei, and Nestore De Cristoforo, would be the center of political opposition to Medici rule in the last decades of the Seventeenth Century.


The Palazzo Marino in Milan, home of Flavia Speranza and the center of Milanese social and cultural life in the 1680s

Far from the partisan wrangling of Florence, Francesco II spent the spring and summer of 1681 rebuilding and re-organizing his armies after the brutal winter. Skarbeck and Schaylun, perhaps unconvinced the Italians meant to continue fighting, failed to take initiative to destroy them. Instead, the pair resorted to ponderous sieges of Érsekújvár and Szolnok, respectively. Historians have been divided in their assessment of the allies’ campaign plans for 1681. One version places the blame on King Henryk II, claiming he ordered his field commanders to delay action so that he could raise his own army and crush Francesco himself. However, this appears far-fetched. Henryk was a prideful and often impulsive ruler, but he was considered by contemporaries to be a sound strategic thinker when it came to war. That he would have sacrificed victory for the sake of vanity would not seem to align with his general wartime performance. Furthermore, as king, he could have taken command of any Polish army, inheriting a battle-hardened, experienced force instead of one consisting of green recruits. A second version places the blame on Grand Duke Kazimieras III of Lithuania. Eager to end the war on the favorable terms his armies had gained in the field, Kazimieras felt that too crippling a blow against the Italians could have the effect of hardening their resolve. He was also eager to preserve his expensive and expanded army, which had thus far survived the war relatively unscathed. His men were still mopping up the remnants of the Livonian Order, who had been reduced to living in the woods like robber knights of old. Still, with several thousand hardened fighters still in the field preying upon Lithuanian supply lines, he was loathe to risk venturing out too far. The knights maintained a small but fierce insurgency, with several of them becoming notorious among the enemy for their cunningly brutal tactics and their apparent love of combat. Among the most feared were Sir Kasper Mag Ulrich von Thraka, also known as the Beast of Livonia, and another knight commander described as wearing gilded armor and an ostentatious hat known simply as Kapitän Badrukk. The continued hesitance of the Lithuanians did begin to fray the alliance bonds, as the Poles began to realize they were bearing the full weight of fighting the Italian war machine. Other historians, less sympathetic to the Polish version of events, place the blame on the commanders themselves. They had considered the war ended when they dealt what appeared to be the knockout blows at Brünn and Érsekújvár and failed to respond properly when the enemy did not capitulate as planned.

Regardless of reason, the Italians got the space and the time they needed to bring up reinforcements from Italy. Local recruiting, whereby Germans, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, and even Poles were brought into the ranks with promises of good pay and food (and, in the case of officers, a plot of land in Italy), filled the gaps in manpower. Depending on the sources, anywhere between fifteen and forty percent of Francesco’s army was made up of non-Italians by the end of the war. The king’s winter policy of fostering good relations with the locals paid off in recruits and better intelligence.

The momentum was beginning to turn once again in the Italians’ favor. On 17 June 1681 the Baltic flotilla under the command of Admiral Ludovico Castagna smashed the Polish fleet in the Bay of Riga. After the fall of the city, the Italians had slipped out of the bay under cover of darkness and sailed north. The Poles, with the city in allied hands, sailed into the bay about a week later to deliver supplies to the troops and to refit and re-arm. Castagna had sailed his flotilla into the Väinameri, hiding the ships among the islands of the West Estonian Archipelago. The sparsely populated islands had no Polish or Lithuanian presence and insurgent knights of the Livonian Order controlled the heavily wooded shorelines on the mainland. Thus, the Italians were able to catch their foes by surprise, with the Poles having little time to scramble their ships. Sealed into the bay, they were shot to pieces and then boarded by the better trained and armed Italians. In the end, 13 Polish ships lay at the bottom of Riga Bay (4 wargalleons, 7 galiots, and 2 armed merchantmen) and another five had been captured (2 frigates, a galiot, and 2 armed merchantmen), all without the loss of a single Italian vessel (some Italian sailors were killed when a Polish galiot they had boarded and captured subsequently sank). The battle was a huge morale and propaganda victory for Italy after the horrific winter of 1680-81. It prevented the final strangulation of the Livonian resistance and reaffirmed total Italian dominance at sea, even in Polish and Lithuanian home waters. Parliament passed a motion officially declaring the victorious squadron “The Golden Fleet” (La Flotta d’Oro). The nickname had less grandiose origins, dating back to the Great Crusade when Italian ships returned to their home ports loaded with the plunder of the Ottoman Empire, but it served a contemporary propaganda purpose. Bombast aside, the fleet more than earned its moniker, maintaining a spotless record of victories in the war while operating at long distances and under often extreme weather conditions.



The Battle of the Bay of Riga

The year would conclude with even better news. On 30 November 1681, Francesco II gained some vengeance against Maksym Skarbeck for the previous year’s defeats by routing the Poles at Budapest, lifting the siege of the city, and rescuing the determined garrison. As the two sides entered winter quarters once again, the situation had dramatically reversed. Still, the new year of 1682 brought a renewed vigor from the Poles, though they continued to avoid pitched battles. They recaptured Szolnok on 8 March and finally liberated Krakow on 9 April. In the latter city, the historic and spiritual capital of Poland, the liberators showed little mercy to the garrison. The surviving Italian defenders were put to the sword, their heads spiked and used to line the walls. This episode of brutality is somewhat surprising given the previous sixteen months had seen a lack of severe clashes between the two sides. Still, the pressure of the siege likely caused tempers to flare and a vindictive mood to take hold. Polish officers later stated that the killings were in reprisal for the brutal treatment of the population by the garrison during the occupation. It was a grisly reminder that local conditions and animosity often governed outcomes on the ground.

A more pressing problem for King Francesco appeared on Italy’s eastern borders. Grand Duke Kazimieras, finally convinced he would have to do more to win, launched an invasion of Italy in the spring of 1682. On 13 April they arrived before the walls of Trieste, the easternmost bastion of the Ring of Iron, anchoring the line of fortresses to the Adriatic. Francesco, determined to spare his homeland from any enemy depredations, descended upon them quickly and in force at the head of 46,000 soldiers. The Lithuanians withdrew, with the Grand Duke abandoning his designs on Italy almost as quickly as he had developed them, and instead attempting to link up with his Polish allies. Unfortunately for him and his men, they had overcommitted and lingered outside Trieste a day or two too long. The Italians caught up with them on 1 June at Graz and Francesco handed his Lithuanian counterpart a sharp defeat. Prior to the battle, both sides had to provide the Habsburg authorities assurances that they would not molest the locals, lest they have the Austrian army intervene against them as well.



The Battle of Graz

There was a marked transformation in the king’s thinking on war since the Great Crusade. Then, the tone of his correspondence with his wife and various government officials had a tone of boyish enthusiasm, as if he were drinking in the adventure of it all. By the late stages of the later conflict, his views had been hardened. The King of Italy found much stiffer adversaries in the Poles and Lithuanians than he had the Turks and Tunisians. The brutal winter at Pressburg weighed particularly heavy. Even after defeating the Grand Duke of Lithuania in battle, he did not rush back to pen a boastful letter. During the battle he was personally involved in combat at a spot called the bloody hedge, located on the Italian left flank where sustained hand to hand combat occurred. When the fighting was over, he joined his men in burying the bodies of the dead, Italians as well as Lithuanians, and then sat alone upon the battlefield late into the night. The war marked a period in the king’s life where he became a more serious and focused ruler. There would be no illustrated novellas of the Battle of Graz, no comedia dell’arte plays about the winter at Pressburg.

From Graz, Francesco seized the initiative back decisively. He regrouped with Vico and Ubaldini and raced east once again. Skarbeck had not remained idle, had built a new army, and was once again besieging Budapest. The Italians struck hard on 3 July, and inflicted another defeat on the Poles. As Skarbeck headed east again to lick his wounds, he must surely have wondered how his fortunes could have fallen so hard. Still, the Polish hero did not relent. Determined to retake Buda Castle and halt the Italian advance, he once again set out for battle, this time planning to attack the Italians as they prepared to make winter quarters. The king, however, learned of their movements and this time set a trap of his own. On 1 December, instead of a grand pitched battle on an open field in summer, the clash was at night in the freezing woods. Francesco arranged his best regiments into a shock force, tasked them with falling upon the Polish camp in the dark. He armed his men only with bayonets, with the Italians carrying no flints with which to fire their muskets. There would be no opportunity to squander the element of surprise. By the time the vanguard started to smash the succession of picket posts leading into the camps, the Poles were in total disarray. Their officers, witnessing their own pickets firing in defiance at the oncoming Italians, ordered their men to take aim, leveling devastating volleys against their own men. The Italians, bayonets affixed, charged upon the reloading infantry and cut right through them. By dawn, Skarbeck was beating a hasty retreat with the men that were left to him, while the victorious troops lustily looted their abandoned baggage train. As the year drew to a close, both sides neared exhaustion, but the Italians had won the preponderance of the victories of late, and their better morale and lower rates of desertion were a testament to those successes.

The king used the winter of 1682-83 to settle two other festering matters within his own borders. In Crete, the diplomatic efforts of all sides, crown, local government, and rebels, led to a peaceful resolution. Vitsentzos Venizelos, the island’s governor, was crucial to this effort, as his good relations with both sides kept open dialogue and he was able to articulate the demands of the Candia Business Association while maintaining a detached perspective. Francesco II ultimately made many of the same concessions he made in Ragusa. He granted the islanders the privilege of levying their own tariffs and taxes, on top of those imposed by the Crown; he pardoned all rebels and made the Candia Business Association a legal organization; and he rescinded rules giving Venetian and Genovese merchants favored status in Cretan ports. This largely put an end to the unrest, and Italian ships were soon welcomed back into the harbor of Candia.

Back in Italy, For nearly two years, since January of 1681, Piedmont had been in open rebellion and largely in a state of anarchy. Individual towns had their own governance structures and armed bands patrolled the hills and roads. Turin was ruled by the Consiglio Municipale, which was built on the original provincial administration and was thus able to at least govern the city proper. However, even in Turin their authority was limited, and entire areas of the city were ruled by wealthy families or armed factions. Francesco arrived on the east bank of the Po, across from the city, on 8 January 1683. He brought only one regiment, the Reggimento del Fiore, consisting of less than a thousand men. It was a clear message that this was a purely diplomatic missionas they brought along only a handful of small caliber field guns that presented no threat to the city walls. The Torinesi had merely to shut their gates if they did not want to treat with him. The king invited members of the Consiglio across under a promise of safe passage to meet with him in a specially prepared tent. The royal offer was simple: the Consiglio Municipale would swear an oath of loyalty to the crown, abandon all calls for independence from Italy, and confirm the disinheritance of the House of Savoy. They would also assist the crown in “peacefully regaining the loyalty of other towns, estates, etc. still in open rebellion.” In exchange, Francesco II would abolish the ducal title and instead declare a Republic of Piedmont to be semi-autonomous with the Consiglio Municipale being granted royal authority to operate as a provincial legislature. Furthermore, Waldensians would be added to the list of “Protected Religions” defined in Article II of the Constitution. It was a staggering concession, and even some members of the wider Consiglio were suspicious. Some questioned if the Constitution even allowed the king to make such an offer. For example, amending Article II so that Waldensians could become a protected faith required the approval of two thirds of the provinces, not simply a royal decree. Still, these matters were largely smoothed over and on 13 January the two sides inked the Peace of Sant'Ilario. With that, Francesco healed another open wound of the Years of Lead. The Waldensians would indeed receive their religious protections the following year, when they were officially added to the constitution. Piedmont, as a province, had scored an important victory politically. The fight had been harsh, but they were spared the brutal reprisals visited on the Egyptians, and gained arguably more than the Ragusans and Cretans had. For the crown, it set a potentially dangerous precedent, but in the short term it at least restored peace to the Italian Peninsula.

Francesco returned to the front in late February. The year 1683 was witness to large-scale, yet mostly futile battles. A final Lithuanian attempt to invade Italy from the east failed in late February. Once again, the fortress at Trieste easily held the invaders at bay long enough for the king to return and smash them. That was followed by a series of battles in and around the devastated fortress city of Érsekújvár. Skarbeck initially seized the upper hand, defeating Vico on 28 March. However, Francesco and Ubaldini arrived in early April and drove the Poles out of the region after a series of battles that would come to be known as the Nitra River Campaign. From an Italian perspective, these relatively minor battles are notable for the arrival on the scene of Crown Prince Francesco, accompanied by a host of young and idealistic companions out for their first tastes of military glory. The Prince of Naples, who got his first taste of battle still just shy of his sixteenth birthday, was a quiet and reserved boy who would never relish the soldier’s life quite the way his father did. Still, he had absorbed the chivalric values held so dear by the king and court; the prince grew up knowing and even training with real life crusading heroes; and, most importantly, he had absorbed the notion, passed on by his father, that a king’s duty first and foremost was the protection of his faith and his people. He did not serve in the Reggimento del Fiore, the Florentine old-guard unit that was traditionally known as the Medici’s own regiment; the honor of commanding that unit went instead to Figaro dé Medici di Castellina, the promising scion of the dynasty’s most senior cadet branch. Instead, the Prince of Naples was assigned to a “hometown” unit, the Neapolitan Cavalleria Campana. Furthermore, Prince Francesco was not even given command of the regiment, as was often the case for the sons of the elite of the nobility, but was instead made only a lieutenant. Though his military legacy would one day match, if not exceed, his father’s, the future Francesco III’s career began inauspiciously. First, while the army was encamped on the night of 28 March, saboteurs successfully infiltrated a portion of the camp his men were responsible for guarding, and lit several ammunition stores on fire, detonating them. A week later, while on patrol along the Nitra River, he and his men were ambushed by Hungarian bandits and forced to retreat in disorder with heavy losses. He eventually gained his footing and was reported by all to have performed gallantly in battle against the Poles at Komoča on 10 April 1683. The Crown Prince suffered his first battle wound there when he was grazed by a musket ball to the left shoulder while his unit repelled a charge of Polish infantry. He was three days past his sixteenth birthday.

The Italians would eventually recapture Érsekújvár in September. It was a hollow conquest. The once proud garrison town had been largely reduced to rubble. Its population fell to ten percent its original number, and would not return to pre-war size until the the second half of the Eighteenth Century. The final pitched battle occurred on 28 October at Szolnok, a nominal Italian victory that did nothing to change the overall strategic situation. The Italians still clung on to Budapest and now held a few much-reduced fortresses, yet they had no hope of advancing further. Krakow, which Francesco had briefly grasped, was far out of reach. There was nothing left to do but negotiate an end to the fighting.


By that point in the war, the indomitable Archbishop Johann IX had gained the respect of all involved, and thus he was chosen as the guarantor of the peace negotiations. Francesco arrived flanked by his generals and, appropriately, his foreign minister, Giovanni Battista Veneroso, Count of La Spezia and Lord Admiral of Italy. The unsung hero of the war, Veneroso had overseen yet another fantastically successful naval campaign. In his two decades as steward of Italian maritime power, the fleets he built had smashed the Ottomans in the Mediterranean and completely imposed their will in the Baltic. By keeping the sea lanes open, they guaranteed the normal continuation of commerce at home while strangling the trade of their adversaries.

King Henryk II and Grand Duke Grand Duke Kazimieras III attended in person as well, heading their own delegations, as did Landmeister Hermann von der Recke of the Livonian Order, freshly emerged from fighting in the woods. The war had been hard on the chivalric order, decimating their ranks and leaving their lands a devastation. But what they lost in material terms, they might have recuperated in prestige and renown. Von der Recke and his knights became legendary in the region, with tales of them fighting clad in chainmail and wielding great swords against pistol-wielding cavalry, popular among children and adults alike. As far as the three monarchs went, they got along fine, though Francesco, 42, had been sobered by the years more than Henryk and Kazimieras, who were 29 and 28, respectively. While they galivanted about the city, the King of Italy spent most of his time at mass or conversing with the Prince-Archbishopm, whom he greatly admired.


Riga Castle, site of the peace negotiations

Despite the personal friendship of the Polish and Lithuanian sovereigns, their respective delegations were at odds. The Poles had grown weary of what they viewed as their ally’s lackadaisical effort against the Italians throughout the war. Veneroso approached Admiral Bronislaw Judycki, who in turn talked to Skarbeck, and the trio reached an understanding. Veneroso guaranteed that Poland would walk away from the war with no losses in territory or treasure and that the Italians would make no territorial demands of their own. In exchange, the Poles would pressure Lithuania to accept a disadvantageous peace. Skarbeck and Judycki made the deal without consulting Henryk. To further strengthen his hand, Veneroso also lobbied Burgermeister Ahsembourg of Ulm, who headed the German delegation. The German statelets that had joined the war on the Lithuanian side were not only tired of fighting, but had to deal with the Bohemia-Saxony conflict tearing their home region apart. Thus, they willingly backed the new peace push. By the time the Italians made their demands in open session, it was clear most of the Polish and German delegations were in agreement. All the Polish king could do was storm out of the room. Henryk in later years would lament that Skarbeck stole his “victory” because he wanted to tarnish the king’s reputation. However, the Grand Hetman was the one making the wise choice. In one stroke, he ended what had become a futile and destructive war while saving Poland from any punishment. On 21 December 1683, the sovereigns signed the Peace of Riga, ending six years of brutal warfare.


The peace treaty ended Lithuanian overlordship over Riga after only 38 months

The fighting in eastern Europe had been hard for the Italians but the army did not emerge from the war with nothing to show for their efforts. Experience fighting in Hungary and Poland had further familiarized the army with light cavalry tactics which they incorporated more and more. The Italians had started using dragoons, or mounted infantry, during the Great Crusade, but refined their use in the War of Riga. In addition to the dragoons, the army began to employ “hussar” units, modeled on their Polish counterparts but maintaining Latin uniforms and customs. Those advances aside, the force was spent and needed time to recover. Manpower was at a premium and Italy would need a few years before she could fight again. Still, by the time King Francesco led the Italian armies back into Italy in April of1684, the worst of the troubles in his empire were over. The rebellions had either been defeated or they had fizzled out. Italy could finally enjoy peace.


Still, the war’s toll was heavy. It delayed economic growth and degraded the people’s standard of living. Wealth disparity increased in the decade following the Great Crusade, as the lower classes struggled to get by while the elites got rich on the flowering overseas commerce that generated great profits for the skilled or lucky few while ignoring the wellbeing of the masses. Thousands died in a conflict which, in the end, did not yield a single material prize for the kingdom. Francesco II justified this by claiming, not unconvincingly, that the papacy was willing to back large Italian territorial claims in some cases (such as after the Great Crusade) precisely because the Holy See knew it could rely on having Medici power at its disposal without having to deal with much fuss in return. The role of pontifical battering ram did have other benefits, such as solidifying Florentine dominance of the College of Cardinals and, thus, the hold on the future of the papacy itself. Somehow, and despite the economic hardship, Italy managed to work her way out of the Years of Lead malaise by 1684. The second half of the 1680s projected a return to stability and expansionism after a decade of turbulence following the Great Crusade. Still, lingering effects from the period would continue to haunt Italy’s progress. Issues involved the slave trade, the fate of the colonies in Africa and the New World, the desire to access new markets further afield, the unstable geopolitical situation in Europe, and the tension between traditionalism and the Enlightenment would continue to crop up in the years to come.

In Riga, the citizens of a battered city finally had a moment to try and pick up the pieces. They had fought so hard and lost so much, it was difficult to keep up hope. Led by their indomitable Archbishop, they began the long process of reconstruction, though this process would meet with new setbacks brought on by new wars. Gold from Florence and Rome helped cover some costs, but there was so much to do. Unfortunately for these courageous people, the Grand Duke of Lithuania would not be the last ambitious ruler from the east to cast his eye upon the city.
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If the Italian army was legendary after the great crusade, it has now ascended to mythological status. Coming back from defeat and a harsh winter only to humiliate it's foes on the battlefield several times over. I also have to say that the letter exchange before the battle of Cairo was itself legendary in being both poetic and ruthless.

As for the developments at home. It looks like the merchant class might have been outplayed, getting more gold for shipping goods for the war effort, but being taxed more heavily on coffee in return. While the war is now over, one wonders how long the taxes on coffee will drag on. It's not clear just how much this will end up costing them.

I really like how in depth you go on the complexities of the slave trade in this new chapter in particular. A very interesting if gruelling time and place in history. Especially the intended and un-intented consequences of the trade on the African interior aren't as well known and their equivalent in this universe with the civil wars due to italian guns and the slave uprising were fascinating and very believable.
If the Italian army was legendary after the great crusade, it has now ascended to mythological status. Coming back from defeat and a harsh winter only to humiliate it's foes on the battlefield several times over. I also have to say that the letter exchange before the battle of Cairo was itself legendary in being both poetic and ruthless.

Here's to seeing for how long that edge will last before a major setback that would cause a major setback for the Italians.
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