Idhrendur

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A period of peace is just what Tuscany needed. And modernizing the government without bloodshed is a plus.
 

Nikolai

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Nice to see this back! :)
 

JerseyGiants88

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Well this is a lovely surprise - great to see this back!

A period of peace is just what Tuscany needed. And modernizing the government without bloodshed is a plus.

Nice to see this back! :)

Thanks everybody. I hope I haven't lost too many readers with my hiatus but I have the next few updates coming down as well, so at least for the next few weeks I should be updating pretty regularly. The next chapter and, especially, the next historical vignette should be quite action packed. You will get to know Cosimo del Rosso pretty well.
 

JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 30: Sinking Venice, 1553-1557


Cosimo del Rosso was born outside of Florence in 1495, grandson of the legendary Florentine military leader, Grand Captain Pietro Leopoldo del Rosso. Pietro Leopoldo was remembered as the “Father of the Florentine Army” which later became the Tuscan army. Most of his male descendants had all gone on to serve in the army in various roles, though none ever achieved their ancestor’s level of success. The headstrong Cosimo bucked the trend, leaving the family estate outside Florence in 1511 at the age of 16 to go to Livorno. Once in the famed port city, Cosimo found work aboard various merchant ships sailing throughout the Mediterranean. He soon developed a reputation as a skilled sailor and, though he avoided serving in the army, he inherited his family’s characteristic courage and love for battle, quickly making a name for himself as a fearsome fighter on the high seas.


Cosimo’s numerous victorious encounters with the Barbary pirates hardened him and also earned him the attention of Beppe Gucciardi, head of the Compagnia Adriatica, a middling trade company based out of Rimini on the Adriatic coast, who hired him as a ship captain. Del Rosso continued his rise, leading numerous trade flotillas to the eastern Mediterranean, areas where many trade companies were loath to tread for fear of pirate raids. Del Rosso excelled at smuggling goods in and out of ports to avoid paying duties, which reduced the Compagnia Adriatica’s operating expenses and made him personally wealthy.This smuggling did also earn him a bit of a reputation as an outlaw, but in Italy he only used this to burnish his credentials. He performed so well that Gucciardi offered to make him a business partner. Through Gucciardi’s business skill and del Rosso’s adventurous seafaring, the Compagnia Adriatica soon became the largest Tuscan-based trading company on the Adriatic and one of the largest in the Grand Duchy overall.


Del Rosso became so wealthy that by the late 1520s he began visiting the Grand Ducal court in Florence to ask the newly crowned Girolamo I to make him an admiral in order to build a powerful Tuscan navy. He was initially rebuffed and returned to the Compagnia Adriatica to continue commanding trade vessels. Then, in the spring of 1528, del Rosso was leading a flotilla of four caravels transporting spices, wool, and sugar from Alexandria to Venice when they were set upon by somewhere between nine and twenty corsair vessels (del Rosso and many in his crew claimed there were twenty pirate ships, nine or ten is likely the more realistic number). Keeping his cool, del Rosso ordered his ships to turn and face the oncoming pirates and then sail straight toward them, guns blazing. The Compagnia Adriatica vessels sank three corsair ships, causing the others to beat a hasty retreat, then captured two other ships when they caught up to and boarded them.


When del Rosso and his crews sailed into Venice, pirate ships in tow, they were greeted as heroes. As a reward for his bravery, the Venetian authorities gave del Rosso the grim honor of presiding over the mass execution of the captured pirates.


By the time he returned to Girolamo I’s court in the fall of 1529, del Rosso was already a hero in Tuscany and being hailed as the greatest sailor Florence had ever produced. The timing was perfect. The Grand Duke was getting ready to announce the military reforms of 1530 which, for the first time, were going to provide significant funds for an expansion and modernization of the Tuscan navy. Girolamo’s military advisor, Rodolfo Grimaldi suggested that the navy also be given an admiral to oversee the project and then lead the fleet. Since he was at the height of his popularity, and had brought the issue up before, both Girolamo I and Grimaldi, neither of whom knew anything about navies, turned to del Rosso. At the age of thirty five, he was named Admiral of the Tuscan Navy.

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Admiral Cosimo del Rosso


However, with a steady salary for the first time in his life and a prestigious place in the Tuscan social hierarchy, Admiral del Rosso soon found that he enjoyed the leisurely life at court as much as crossing swords with Barbary corsairs on the high seas. A notorious lothario who claimed to “have a son or daughter in every port of the Mediterranean,” del Rosso was soon involved in love affairs with numerous women at court, several of whom were married. Del Rosso was, by all reports, far from handsome, balding, short, and lacking many of the dashing features that made many of the del Rosso clan known for their good looks. Nevertheless, he was flamboyant, charming, and in possession of an endless supply of tales of swashbuckling adventure. These traits helped him bed plenty of women, and earned him powerful and dedicated enemies among others at court, who were none too pleased to have a man who they considered to be little better than a pirate and smuggler in bed with their daughters or, even worse, their wives.


While del Rosso traipsed around the Florentine court, the job of building up the navy went ignored. The funds earmarked for naval expansion went into his own pockets or those of his old sailor friends whom he had “hired” to help him run the fleet. By the time Francesco Stefano I came to power, the navy was barely any stronger than it was in 1530 when del Rosso was first made admiral and his enemies were openly calling for his dismissal and for him to be tried for corruption. However, del Rosso was always capable of saving himself and of doing the job when it needed to be done. He made a number of powerful friends, which added to his already prestigious family name and connections. First, he won over the trust and confidence of Gian Carlo Rivani, the minister of war, who still believed that despite his faults, del Rosso was the right man for the job. More importantly, he won the friendship of the Grand Duke and his wife, Grand Duchess Sophie Louise. The French-born Sophie Louise in particular was taken with del Rosso’s charm and seafaring stories. Sophie Louise, in her twenties, and the admiral, now in his fifties, became steadfast friends, though there is no evidence, despite court gossip, that their affair was ever anything but platonic. It was the Grand Duchess, an ardent supporter of Tuscan military power, who inspired del Rosso to finally get to work on the project of modernizing the navy and promised him a chance for glory at sea in the service of Tuscany.


Once del Rosso got to work, he reminded everyone why his career with the Compagnia Adriatica was so successful. He recruited widely and personally oversaw the refurbishing of older ships and the construction of new ones. As a result, by the early 1550s, the Tuscan navy was ready for war. Del Rosso even named his splendid new flagship the Sophie Louise, in honor of the Grand Duchess.


Back in Florence, Francesco Stefano was itching for a fight. The Republic of Venice lacked strong allies and had never quite recovered from its defeat to the Republic of Florence in the brutal Second Italian War and now made a tempting target. News of the navy’s high level of readiness excited the Grand Duke and his military advisors. Never before had Tuscany (or Florence earlier) been able to realistically entertain the possibility of capturing Venice itself. The Venetian navy had always been one (or several) classes better in both size and quality. Now, however, it looked as if the scales might be balanced, or even tilted in favor of Tuscany.


Through the summer and fall of 1553, the Tuscan army began preparations for the land campaign against Venice. In early October, the principal military men, led by General Giuliano Vasari, Gian Carlo Rivani, and del Rosso, met with Francesco Stefano I in Bologna to draw up the war strategy. They envisioned a fast moving strike against the Venetians involving a naval attack to gain control of the Gulf of Venice combined with a speedy army advance designed to occupy the Venetian mainland provinces and quickly lay siege to the fortresses guarding the approach to the Venetian lagoon. The army leadership was confident that they could win any pitched battle on land, as they had both a quantitative and qualitative advantage.


The big question was the way the war would go at sea. The Venetian navy was not what it once was, but it was still a formidable foe and, despite the legitimate improvements made to the fleet by del Rosso and his colleagues, the Tuscan navy remained largely untested as a cohesive force. It was true that del Rosso reached back to many of his old friends and contacts from his days plying the Mediterranean trade and smuggling routes but they had never fought together. The crews were a motley force, combining professional military sailors with pirates, smugglers, and men who had only ever served on mercantile ships. They were also an ethnically diverse force. While the lion’s share of the sailors were of Tuscan origin, del Rosso copied the Venetians’ own recruitment strategies, bringing in Muslims from North Africa, Greeks, Iberians, and an assortment of others with the promise of booty and, in many cases, pardons from the Grand Duke combined with an opportunity to settle in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. For the scores of men who were wanted for various maritime crimes around the Mediterranean, this looked like a good deal. Indeed, del Rosso’s second in command was a former slave from Assab in the Sultanate of Adal turned Barbary pirate captain turned honest merchant in the employ of the Compagnia Adriatica, Sabir al-Din Leta.


Any hope for a decisive Tuscan victory rested on the battle at sea. If del Rosso and his men lost, then the city of Venice would remain untouchable and, with the sea routes open, the republic could carry on the war indefinitely. That is what occurred in the Second Italian War of 1512-15. Despite an overwhelming victory on land, including the destruction of the entire Venetian army in November of 1514, the war was far from decisive since the Venetian navy was able to protect the capital and keep it open for business. Admiral del Rosso promised there would be no repeat of that this time around.


On 10 November 1553, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany declared war on the Republic of Venice. Hoping to gain possession of Dalmatia as a result of the war, the nascent Duchy of Croatia joined the Tuscan side. On the Venetian side were the Knights Hospitaller and the Duchy of Gelre.


Four days later, on 14 November, the Tuscan and Venetian fleets met in the Gulf of Venice. Venice was caught at an inopportune time as a large portion of their navy was in the eastern Mediterranean escorting trade convoys. The Venetian fleet, under Admiral Leopoldo Caramenga was set up in a half moon formation guarding the main entrance to the lagoon, with another reserve portion inside the lagoon itself acting as a flank and rear guard. The main body of their force, the one guarding the lagoon entrance, consisted of two carracks, three caravels, and ten galleys, with another seven galleys and five flutes serving in the reserve. The Tuscans approached with their main body under the command of admiral del Rosso himself in the flagship Sophie Louise. Along with him were three other carracks, fourteen caravels, and six flutes. Meanwhile, Sabir al-Din Leta took the Tuscan navy’s seven galleys through a shallow narrow entrance to the lagoon in the south. Guided by some local fishermen who knew the waters, the Tuscan galleys travelled in single file through the marshes to take the Venetians in the rear.

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The Battle of the Venetian Lagoon


In the main part of the battle, the Tuscans held extensive numerical superiority but the Venetians, tightly packed near the lagoon entrance, had a positional advantage, as their clustered guns could begin accurately engaging as the Tuscans approached. Thus began a long standoff, with del Rosso not wanting to move in and the Venetians unwilling to sacrifice their one advantage by going out to engage their foes. Del Rosso wanted to wait for Sabir’s galleys to begin the attack in the rear in order to confuse the Venetians and throw their crews into disarray. Just before noon, the Venetians spotted Sabir’s lead galley, his own Furia Africana, and moved to engage it. The professional and experienced Venetian crews manning the carracks and caravels did not, however, take the bait. Trusting in their fellow ships’ crews in the lagoon, they held their positions. This gave del Rosso no choice but to attack or risk losing all of his galleys, which were now trapped in the lagoon. It turned out that this was the approach he should have taken from the beginning. The Tuscans had a decisive advantage in number of guns and the admiral’s crews turned out to be better gunners than either he or the Venetians expected. By sheer volume of cannon fire, they were able to devastate the Venetian ships. The fast moving caravels closed into range and rained fire on their enemies. When the Sophie Louise and the other carracks moved in to punch through the Venetian line, the battle was already in their favor. Several of the merchant republic’s vessels were in flames and the Tuscan heavy ships blew them to pieces. Within less than an hour of the opening slavos, the Venetians lost both of their carracks and all three of their caravels. With only the galleys left all the Tuscans had to do was bombard them from afar with little risk to themselves.

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Painting of the Battle of the Venetian Lagoon


Meanwhile, in the lagoon, the fight was not going as well. Sabir’s galley crews turned out to be no match for the Venetians. While the Tuscans were sinking Caramenga’s flagship and the rest of the heavy and light ships arrayed against them, the Venetian galleys were engaging Sabir’s vessels one by one as they came out of the narrow channel from which they approached. Still, the Tuscan crews fought valiantly and managed to take four of the enemy’s galleys down with them. By the end of the fight though, the Furia Africana and four other Tuscan ships went to the bottom of the lagoon. They were only saved by del Rosso’s breakthrough in the main channel, which forced the Venetian galleys to retreat to the safety of the city’s harbor or risk being encircled and shot to pieces. In the end, Venice lost eleven ships, including all of their carracks and caravels, against the loss of only five Tuscan galleys. Despite the boondoggle inside the lagoon, del Rosso and his fleet were victorious. Sabor al-Din Leta also survived the engagement and was picked up out of the water, where he was clinging to a shattered oar. With their fleet defeated, the Venetians built up what fortification they could and awaited the inevitable Tuscan attack. Admiral Cosimo del Rosso had delivered Tuscany’s greatest victory at sea.

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The victory at the Battle of the Venetian Lagoon was Tuscany's greatest naval victory up to that point


The land campaign began just as successfully, if less spectacularly, as the naval campaign. The Tuscans split their army, with Vasari heading northeast to begin the siege of Treviso and the fortresses on the Venetian lagoon while Francesco Stefano moved his force northwest into the provinces of Verona and Trent. The Grand Duke met only token resistance before reaching and taking Verona on 28 November. A week later they were in Vicenza before turning north into the Alps. The choice to begin the war in the late fall meant that the Tuscan army would have to fight a winter campaign which, in the Alps, normally meant a tough, frigid time. However, with the Venetian army in its capital, the Grand Duke was able to keep his army well provisioned and could move if the weather was mild and hunker down to wait out any snowstorms or periods of intense cold. As a result, his army’s invasion of Trent, even in the middle of winter, resulted in surprisingly few casualties from the cold and almost none to speak of from combat. When they rendezvoused with Vasari’s men in late January, they were almost at full force.


The last fortress guarding the Venetian lagoon fell on 25 February and the Tuscan military commanders began their preparations to invade the city of Venice itself. With del Rosso’s fleet in command of the lagoon, they would be able to ferry across the water unimpeded. The problem was going to be not getting thrown back upon reaching the city. The Venetians had about 19,000 men in the city opposing Francesco Stefano and Vasari’s 28,000 strong army. Venice was not a city designed to withstand a siege, having always counted on its navy to be able to resupply it. Nevertheless, they had enough food and supplies stashed away to feed their people and soldiers for an extended period of time. What the Grand Duke, Vasari, and del Rosso decided to do was combine a siege with a sort of island hopping campaign. The navy would shuttle ground troops to each of the Venetian islands, slowly but surely tightening the noose around the city.


The first strike came against the island of Sant’Erasmo on 15 March. This was followed by the invasion of the barrier island of Lido di Venezia on the seventeenth. With the capture of these two islands, the Tuscan army was able to place land based artillery to guard the entrances to the lagoon, and also to prevent escape from the island. Over the next week they began taking the small islands to the south of Venice: delle Rose, San Spirito, San Clemente, La Grazia, and San Sèrvolo. With the islands to the south in hand, Francesco Stefano turned north, to capture the archipelago of Murano, home of the world famous Venetian glassmakers. It was here that the Venetian army decided to make a major stand, with about 2,400 men present for the defense. On 4 May a Tuscan landing force went ashore on Sacca Mattia, the northernmost island in the archipelago. The Tuscan invasion was initially halted on the shoreline but as more and more troops came on, the Venetians were forced to fall back. Still, the fighting went on for six days. Francesco Stefano himself participated in the fighting as he and his men went house to house, island to island until they cleared the defenders out. The prize island however was the Giudecca, directly across from the main city of Venice. If the Tuscans could take this island, then their field artillery pieces would be in range of Venice proper.


Francesco Stefano led the initial assault across on boats to take the island’s small port. By the end of the first day they succeeded and could begin offloading artillery and other equipment from the larger ships. Just like on Murano however, the Venetian defenders resisted stubbornly, forcing the Tuscans to once again fight building to building. When the whole island fell on 2 June, the Tuscans finally held a major advantage.


They would be helped by internal divisions within the Venetian government. One faction, led by Doge Anselmo Pisani and his brother Marco Antonio Pisani, commander of the Venetian army, wanted to offer terms to the Tuscans. The Pisani family was hugely popular among some portions of Venetian society and were backed in their efforts by many of the mercantile houses, who saw little to be gained by a protracted fight that was likely to destroy a great deal of the city and which Venice was likely to lose anyway. Opposing them were a group of old patrician families who feared the Pisani were plotting to establish dynastic control of Venice and who considered surrender treasonous. The appearance of Tuscan field guns across the Giudecca Canal helped convince most of the population to back the Pisani and treat with the Tuscan invaders.


On 7 June, Doge Anselmo Pisani and several of his advisors crossed the Giudecca Canal for the negotiations. Marco Antonio Pisani stayed with the army on the other side, to ensure that nobody tried to overthrow the brothers while they were dealing with the Grand Duke. Anselmo Pisani offered the following terms: he would surrender the city and surrender himself as a prisoner of Francesco Stefano I in exchange for a promise of his own personal safety, no looting of the city or its treasures, and that the army be allowed to withdraw from the city under safe passage from the Tuscan navy. The Grand Duke of Tuscany initially balked at the prospect of letting a nearly 14,000 strong army which he already had trapped simply slip away back to the mainland. However, Vasari and Rivani convinced him that the deal was in fact a good one. It would prevent what was certain to be significant bloodshed if there was an invasion of Venice proper and expedite the end of the war. There were political considerations on both sides that made the deal palatable.


For Doge Pisani, offering to turn himself over as a prisoner in exchange for safe passage for the army and the preservation of the city, was a shrewd political move. It made him a hero with many Venetians despite the defeat, becoming known as the man who saved the city through skilled diplomacy and self-sacrifice. It also allowed his brother to escape the city at the head of the army, salvaging some hope for a turnaround of the war and a victory. For the Tuscans the agreement signified an end to a difficult and complicated campaign which was sure to be extremely bloody should they ever have to assault the main islands of Venice. Also, it meant a speedier end to the war. King Louis XV of France, Francesco Stefano’s brother-in-law, was requesting Tuscan assistance in his second attempt to dismember the Duchy of Savoy. Tuscan help in this endeavor was a condition of Francesco Stefano’s marriage to Sophie Louise and neither he nor his advisors wanted to anger the King of France.


Accordingly, on 8 June 1554, Doge Anselmo Pisani surrendered the La Serenissima to Grand Duke Francesco Stefano I. The deal did not put an end to resistance in the city entirely. A group of patrician families and some army officers and their men decamped to the fortified Venetian arsenal in the Castello section of the city. However, they lacked the manpower and supplies to mount a serious resistance. Honoring his pact to not damage the city, Francesco Stefano ordered a small force to stay behind and keep the resistors penned in and by October they surrendered. In the end, the Venetian campaign was surprisingly low on casualties, with the mercantile republic losing about 5,000 and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany suffering less than 3,000 dead. For both sides, and given the grim initial outlook, it was a shockingly low cost in men. The week following the agreement between Francesco Stefano and Pisani, Grand Duchess Sophie Louise and a large contingent from the Florentine court joined her husband to celebrate the great victory. After a week of partying and debauchery, which included the Grand Duchess and several other high born ladies going for a swim in the Grand Canal, the Grand Duke and his commanders turned back to the business of finishing off the war.

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The capture of Venice marked Francesco Stefano I's greatest military victory


The Tuscan army moved from Venice north to Trent in July to spend the summer months in the breezy Alps rather than the humid, swampy climes of Venice and its surrounding areas. Then in September Henri Duke of Anjou, Louis XV’s younger brother arrived to inform his brother-in-law Francesco Stefano that France planned to declare war on Savoy in early November, whether the war with Venice was concluded by then or not. After conferring with his commanders, the Grand Duke of Tuscany decided that he could pursue both wars at the same time and gave Henri confirmation of Tuscan support. Sophie Louise, who was still with her husband, added a condition to Tuscan support for France. The House of Valois still had a claim on the Kingdom of Naples through their descent from the old Anjevine kings of France. As part of the deal, Sophie Louise convinced the Duke of Anjou to present the following terms to their brother King Louis XV: Louis and all members of the Valois family in France would abandon their claims to Naples, leaving Sophie Louise as the only member of the Valois to still hold one. She framed this as a way for Louis to show his good will toward Tuscany and his respect for the Grand Duchy’s position in Italy. This also meant that Prince Filippo, the son of Francesco Stefano and Sophie Louise, would have a claim to the title of King of Naples. Out of respect for his sister, Louis XV eventually agreed to these terms, opening up the possibility of Medici control of southern Italy in the future.

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Grand Duchess Sophie Louise


Meanwhile, on the eastern side of the Adriatic, the Venetian army had handily defeated Tuscany’s Croatian allies and lifted the sieges of Trieste and Zara and was now threatening the Croatian capital of Rijeka. Francesco Stefano and Vasari once again decided to split the army. Vasari would take his half east to finish off the Venetians while Francesco Stefano would take the rest west to fight the Savoyards and Milanese along with the French.


On 7 November the Kingdom of France declared war on the Duchy of Savoy and Tuscany entered the war. A few weeks later, Admiral del Rosso smashed a Venetian fleet trying to blockade Tuscany’s west coast in the Ligurian Sea. The Grand Duke marched his troops south, where the army of the Papal State had invaded Umbria. He defeated this force on 17 February 1555 outside Perugia and pursued them back into Lazio. On 24 February Francesco Stefano and his men destroyed the Papal army outside Rome and began besieging the city. However, on the same day further to the north, an army made up of troops from Savoy, Milan, Provence, and the Palatinate stunned the French army commanded by Louis XV himself in the province of Cuneo. It looked as if the previous French foray into Italy was repeating itself.

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The French attempt to conquer the Duchy of Savoy brought Tuscany into a second war


By early March General Vasari’s army along with their Croatian allies decisively defeated the Venetians, allowing the Croats to resume the sieges of Trieste and Zara and freeing the Tuscan forces to return to Italy. However, this did not go as planned. Just as the French were stunned at Cuneo, Vasari and his men were routed on 18 April at the Battle of Comazzo east of Milan. Vasari left more than 6,000 dead on the field out of the 11,000 he brought to the battle. With Francesco Stefano still far to the south besieging Rome, the situation in northern Italy now looked dire. Thankfully for France and Tuscany, they were soon bailed out by their minor allies. On 30 May, a combined army of Swiss, Bavarian, and Alsatian troops defeated the Milanese and their Provencal and German allies at the Battle of Cornaredo. This victory stabilized the northern Italian front of the war, gave Tuscany and France room to regroup and rebuild their armies, and allowed space for planning.


There was little fighting during the summer of 1555. Francesco Stefano I and his men were laying siege to Rome while General Giuliano Vasari was rebuilding his army after the defeat at Comazzo. He travelled south to meet with the Grand Duke. Francesco Stefano wanted to finish off the Venetians once and for all. This meant conquering their eastern Mediterranean strongholds of Negroponte in the Aegean Sea, Corfu just south of the Straits of Otranto, and Rhodes, under the rule of the Knights Hospitaller. The plan was that Vasari would stay in Italy to fight Milan and Savoy in support of the French war effort while Francesco Stefano was going to go east, planning to conquer Rhodes first before working his way back west. The ultimate goal of the campaign was going to be to annex all Venetian territory and bring the Most Serene Republic to an end once and for all. The Grand Duke sent word to Admiral del Rosso, whose fleet was at anchor in Venice, to sail around Italy, reconnoiter Corfu, and then come up the west coast to pick up his army once they took Rome.


Then, disaster struck. After being at sea for only two days, the portion of the Venetian fleet that had been in the eastern Mediterranean at the beginning of the war, finally entered the fray. Del Rosso and his ships were sailing south along the coast hoping to raid the Venetian-controlled islands off the coast of Dalmatia. Despite being made up almost exclusively of galleys, the Venetians used the small islands along the eastern Adriatic coast to conceal their movements then took the Tuscan fleet in the rear. Del Rosso and his men were caught completely unaware when the enemy ships appeared off the island of Premuda. By the end of the fight, the Tuscans had lost eight caravels, a galley, and four flutes sunk. Even more humiliating, the Venetians captured two ships, including a heavily armed carrack during the fighting. Del Rosso and his fleet were able to seek refuge in Pesaro but that marked the end of Tuscany’s dreams of conquering Venice’s eastern possessions.

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The Tuscan defeat at the Battle of Premuda put an end to their hopes to conquer Venice's eastern possessions


Grand Duke Francesco Stefano learned of the disastrous defeat at Premuda on 15 November. Despite the end of his dreams of expanding his reach further east, he was soon consoled. The following day, on 16 November, Rome surrendered. For the second time in less than a decade, Francesco Stefano I led his troops into the Eternal City.


The capture of Rome and the Venetian victory in the Adriatic changed the Grand Duke’s calculus. With no hope of taking Venice’s eastern islands, he had no choice but to make peace. Instead of moving his army across the Mediterranean, he would instead march it north to finish off Milan and Savoy. The victories Tuscany had won thus far against the Republic of Venice were already enough to force them into a humiliating peace treaty.


On 29 November 1555, Doge Pisani, who was in Rome as a prisoner, and Grand Duke Francesco Stefano I signed the Peace of Rome, which received the blessing of Pope Alexander VI, ending the war between their states. The terms were devastating. Venice would cede the provinces of Verona and Treviso to Tuscany, Trent to Austria, and Dalmatia to Croatia. Venice was left only with its capital and the province of Istria in Italy. Their mainland empire was wiped out. Venice would continue on, ever resilient, as a mercantile republic with still significant economic power and influence. However, it would never again compete as a major political force in Italy. What was once the greatest power on the peninsula had been brought to its knees. For the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, its greatest rival since the 1490s was out of the way.

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The Peace of Rome wiped out Venice's possessions in mainland Italy


The Peace of Rome cleared Francesco Stefano to return north. The French were finally getting themselves back together and launching another offensive into Savoy. Louis XV had also convinced Poland to enter the war. The eastern European powerhouse tilted the odds overwhelmingly in favor of the French side. On 29 December 1555, the Poles made their presence known when, along with Swiss, Alsatian, and Tuscan troops, they smashed a combined force of men from Savoy, Milan, Provence, and the Palatinate at Milan. This led to a string of victories. The next came at Brescia on 22 January 1556 when a combined Tuscan, Alsatian, and Bavarian army pushed the Savoyard, Milanese, and Provencal force back. Francesco Stefano pursued them back to Milan, where he caught them and forced their surrender on 1 February. While these battles were going on in northern Italy, the French were mopping up the rest of Savoy’s armies in the Alps. It would take most of 1556, but by the end of that year the war was largely over. The French took Turin on 8 October and the Tuscans took Milan on 31 October. With their enemies’ capitals in hand and their field armies destroyed, King Louis XV began peace negotiations.

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The Battle of Milan tipped the balance of the war decisively in favor of France and its allies


In the peace of Lyon, signed on 2 February 1557, France gained the provinces of Draguignan and Maine from Provence and the provinces of Savoie and Cuneo from Savoy.


The two wars were very successful for Tuscany. Their biggest rival in Italy was all but eliminated and another major rival, Savoy, took a heavy blow from the French. While it did mean increased French influence in northern Italy, the agreement between King Louis XV and his sister Grand Duchess Sophie Louise would open up great opportunity for Tuscany to the south. After more than three years of war, Francesco Stefano and the Grand Duchy of Tuscany were ready to settle in for another period of peace.


Admiral Cosimo del Rosso, despite the great victory at the Battle of the Venetian Lagoon, was soon undone by his defeat at Premuda. His enemies seized on his failure to bring up the old charges of corruption and mismanagement. His friendship with Gian Carlo Rivani and Sophie Louise saved him from facing any criminal charges but he was pressured into resigning as admiral. He was rewarded for his service with an estate on the Adriatic coast near Rimini and the man who made Tuscany into a naval power finished out his days quietly by the sea.

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Tuscany and France after the wars

 
Last edited:

Idhrendur

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Nice. You aren't far from completely uniting northern Italy.
 

Nikolai

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We'll have to hope France doesn't go all too much conquering spree on Italy...
 

JerseyGiants88

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Historical Vignette 13: The Battle of the Venetian Lagoon, 13-14 November 1553

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Rimini in 1553

Admiral Cosimo del Rosso and Captain Sabir al-Din Leta stood on the docks at Rimini in the early evening. A cool autumn breeze blew the flags on the Tuscan ships and sent a chill through the two men. Sabir had on his golden cloak he always wore for battle with some loose fitting pants and an open white cloth shirt. On his head he wore a large black turban and by his side hung his curved scimitar with its ivory handle. Del Rosso was wearing an embroidered tunic of red and gold, the del Rosso family colors, with a matching cape. His own sword attached to his waist.

“So what did you learn on your trip to Ferrara?” asked Sabir as the two walked along reviewing the Tuscan caravels as their crews worked on final preparations for battle. The caravels were all armed trading vessels leased from the various merchant companies that had been upgraded for warfare.

“Nothing we did not already know,” replied del Rosso, “the Grand Duke has full confidence in our ships and sailors.”

“Well that is good to know,” said Sabir dryly.

“If it makes you feel any better, he told me that we will be rewarded handsomely if we can deliver a victory tomorrow.”

“Now you have my attention,” said the former corsair looking up.

“I know, you old pirate,” replied the admiral, “he told me getting you a villa in the Tuscan hills near the coast will be no problem at all.”

“You asked about that?”

Dell Rosso nodded.

Now that I like to hear,” said Sabir smiling, “the former slave from Assab will become a country gentleman in Italy.”

“Well first we have to survive, then we have to win,” del Rosso reminded him.

“And how is your dear friend the Grand Duchess?”

“Sophie Louise is well,” said the admiral, “she is confident in victory. She gave a speech to the soldiers telling them she planned to sit down out front of St. Mark’s Basilica and dip her feet into the Grand Canal. She is certainly fierce, and the men responded with roaring cheers. They seemed to be in high spirits.”

“I can think of something I’d like to dip into her,” said Sabir laughing.

Del Rosso frowned at his old friend, “you should not speak like that brother.”

Sabir smirked, “calm yourself. I can’t believe what I am hearing. The notorious womanizer Cosimo del Rosso, father of bastards across the Mediterranean, is telling me to tone down my talk of a woman.”

“She is different, I feel like she is almost a daughter. Plus, she is also your sovereign.”

“Not quite yet,” said Sabir, “until I get my reward and pardon from the Grand Duke I am just a mercenary. Or, as I prefer to call myself, a private contractor.”

“You can call yourself what you like, but you sail under the flag of Tuscany,” del Ross reminded him.

“But I fly my own standard as well,” Sabir shot back. “Also, I still don’t quite believe you when you tell me your relationship with Sophie Louise been entirely virtuous. I mean what kind of a man names a ship after I woman he hasn’t fucked?” he teased.

“Please, she is young and beautiful and a Grand Duchess. I am just a reformed smuggler, balding with a big nose. Plus, I have my own interests in keeping the relationship platonic: primarily because I like having a head."

“Yes, the Grand Duke does not seem like a man to cross. I have heard he is quite the warrior himself.”

“That is true, but tomorrow he will be counting on us. All the land power in the world means nothing against Venice if they hold the advantage on the water.”

“You know I have been looking forward to this,” said Sabir, “no Christian state ever harried me the way the Republic of Venice did. I plan to repay them for all the goods they caused me to lose over the years, and all the good sailors under my command that they killed.”

“That’s the spirit. So do you have any questions on the plan?”

“No, it is simple. I take my galleys into the lagoon and get pummeled while your pretty little carracks and caravels get all the glory shooting the enemy from far away.”

“Sabir, we need the distraction to—”

“Stop. I kid…mostly. I will do my duty. For a villa in the Tuscan hills and the sum of gold that has been promised to me, I would sail into hell with you. Perhaps when this is over I will even convert to your Catholic faith and find myself a pretty little Italian wife. What do you think? With enough land and gold do you think I can convince one of those arrogant aristocrats at court to marry one of their daughters to me? I don’t need the eldest you know, I will take any so long as they look good.”

That caused del Rosso to laugh. “You really are nothing but a refined corsair. With your skills of persuasion I am sure you will do well.”

“I certainly hope so. Well, I must be off to see to my galleys brother,” said Sabir smiling at the thought, “I bid you good luck in the battle tomorrow.”

“Sabir,” said del Rosso as the other turned to walk away, “make sure you are alive by the end of the day.”

“Don’t you worry brother, don’t you worry.” With that, Sabir al-Din Leta walked away.

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Sabir al-Din Leta

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Sabir al-Din Leta stood on the deck of his ship, the Furia Africana, as it emerged from the swamps of the southern Venetian lagoon passing on the east side of the tiny islet of Fisolo. Ahead of him, the galleys of the Venetian fleet were arrayed in line of battle. Shit, he thought to himself, they know we are here. According to the plan laid out by Admiral del Rosso, the enemy galleys should have been distracted by the guns and approach of the Tuscan carracks, yet here they were.

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The Furia Africana, Sabir al-Din Leta's flagship

The Furia Africana led the single file procession of Tuscan galleys coming from the swamps, trailed by Sergio Lomelli’s Perla Adriatica. The ships had passed single file through the swamp, guided by some local fishermen, hoping to catch the Venetians off guard. Obviously, that had failed. We started out too late, thought Sabir to himself. The attack was supposed to begin in the early morning, when the fog would have provided cover and obscured their movement. Instead, it was now nearly midday and any obscuration was long gone. Still, it was too late to waver.

“Out oars,” he shouted to his crew, “prepare to form line.” The Furia Africana’s thirty oars sprouted from its sides and dipped into the water.Their only hope was to slow down and let the rest of their galleys catch up to form a line to counter the enemy. They would lose all initiative but it would give them a fighting chance. “Slow cruise,” yelled Sabir as he looked over his shoulder and saw the Perla Adriatica slowly making its way to his port side. However, it was the only friendly ship he saw. In front of them, the Venetian vessels were closing quickly, coming at them in a crescent formation. In its center was the massive Leone di San Marco, which had fifty oars, was more than twice the length of the Furia Africana, dwarfed her in mass, and boasted the largest ram Sabir had ever seen.

Where the hell are the other ships!?
thought the captain to himself. He ran aft to see where his other galleys were. There! he thought, spotting the Madonna di Ravenna at a standstill at the edge of the swamp. She had dropped her oars and Sabir could see the men rowing but she wasn’t moving. Then it hit him, she’s caught on something. Even worse, the Madonna di Ravenna was blocking the other Tuscan galleys from coming up through the channel. Not to mention that it also meant that the Furia Africana and Perla Adriatica had no retreat route. There were surely other paths through the swamp, but Sabir did not know them. There was no choice: the two galleys would have to face the Venetians alone.

Time was of the essence. The enemy already had a head start and if the two Tuscan galleys didn’t pick up speed soon they would be shredded by the more numerous enemy ships. Their best chance was to get to the barrier island of Lido di Venezia to the east and use it to cover their flanks, hopefully limiting the Venetians’ advantage. He could hear the enemy’s warhorns blowing and the sound of their oarmasters’ drums booming, keeping the rowers on pace, hundreds of men moving as one. Sabir felt a tingle run through his body. The odds might be desperate, but there were few things better than a battle on the sea. If I had good odds, I would be a bad pirate, he thought, trying to give himself courage. He cast one more quick glance behind him, where the Madonna di Ravenna was still stuck in place.

“Hard to starboard!” he shouted to his crew. Sabir’s first mate, Galeazzo Cagnano ran to the port side and shouted the command to the Perla Adriatica. Both Tuscan ships turned sharply, making a beeline for the barrier island.

By the time the Perla Adriatica came abreast of the Furia Africana the two Venetian galleys on their left wing were already between them and the Lido di Venezia. As the two Tuscan galleys approached, the pair of enemy ships came about to face them head on. “Fast cruise,” shouted Sabir to his men, causing his vessel to pick up speed as the oar strokes became more urgent.

A gust of wind began to blow, tugging on Sabir’s golden cloak. It was his battle cloak. He’d had it for years, ever since he took it off a Mamluk ship captain in one of his first ever cruises as a corsair. If he ever did have to die in battle, he wanted to make sure he looked splendid as he did. Above him, on the Furia Africana’s mast, flapped the flag of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany and his own personal standard, a red crescent moon on a black field above the phrase “The Strong Do Not Fear the Lash” in red Arabic script. It was a testament to his early days as a slave in Yemen and Egypt, and how the horrors he had faced them failed to break him. Today, he hoped, the Venetians would not break him either. Just to be sure, he whispered a prayer to himself, as he did every time he went into battle: “la ilaha illa'llah, Muhammadun rasul Allah.”

Ahooooo! Ahoooo!
boomed the Venetian warhorns, sounding the attack. The enemy had the numbers and the momentum, but Sabir’s sailors seemed undaunted. The men of the Furia Africana and the Perla Adriatica shouted encouragement back and forth to each other. On the deck, men banged swords against their shields, made ready with their bows, or quietly loaded powder and shot into their arquebuses. The crews of both ships were a motley lot, mixing Tuscan and Emilian Italians with Africans, Arabs, Greeks, and others. Sabir always considered the bravery of his men in a fight to be a direct reflection of his leadership, and though the blows had not yet started to land, he was encouraged by what he saw and heard.

After what seemed like an eternity, the pairs of ships were finally at each other. From each vessel’s prow came a volley of fire from arquebuses and small cannons. Unlike the carracks and caravels, the guns on the galleys were meant to be anti-personnel rather than anti-ship weapons. The real fight would happen on the decks and in collisions. Still, cannon shot at this range was no laughing matter and several of Sabir’s men went down in the first volley. War cries went up on both sides as the ships closed on each other.

Sabir’s focus was wrenched from the enemy ships ahead of him by a sudden, thundering crash to his port side. He snapped his head left and saw a horrifying sight. The enormous Leone di San Marco had just smashed into the Perla Adriatica’s port side at full speed, splintering its hull and splitting the Tuscan galley clean in two. Men were thrown from the Perla’s deck in all directions as the hulking Venetian flagship began to back water to begin a new attack on the Furia Africana. Sabir wished he could stop and try to pick up as many survivors from the Perla as he could but there was no time. The two smaller Venetian galleys were about to be on him and, as crazy as it appeared, darting between the two oncoming vessels seemed like a much safer place than staying in the open to face the Leone di San Marco.

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Scale model of the Venetian galley Leono di San Marco


“Withdraw oars!” screamed Sabir, and his men quickly retracted them as the two Venetian galleys passed on either side of them. The galley to Furia Africana’s port side withdrew her oars as well but the enemy ship on Sabir’s starboard side was too slow and her oars snapped like a line of twigs as Sabir’s shipraked her starboard side.

“Fire!” he screamed as his arquebussiers and archers on deck unleashed their projectiles on the Venetians, just as their adversaries did the same in reply. A flurry of missiles passed over Furia’s deck. Some, Sabir noted, passed over his own ship and landed as friendly fire on the Venetian galley on the other side. The enemy vessels tossed ropes and grappling hooks on his deck, but his men kicked and cut them away. If the enemy managed to ensnare them here, they would be overwhelmed and cut to pieces due to sheer numbers. After just a few moments though the ships’ momentum carried them past each other and Furia Africana was clear. Lido di Venezia loomed on the horizon in front of them. Still, the toll of passing between two enemy ships had not been light. Several dozen men lay dead, dying, or otherwise wounded on the deck, blood mixing with seawater as it washed across the wooden planks as the ship swayed from side to side.

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The crew of the Furia Africana engage the Venetian galleys

Still, there was no time to stop and count the cost. They needed to turn and face their adversaries quickly. “Come about to starboard!” he shouted to his crew. Sabir hoped to turn his ship around, put the barrier island behind them, and, hopefully, be able to join with the other galleys languishing in the swamp channel. The starboard side oars jabbed into the water, churning up white foam while the oars on the port side rowed faster. Sabir turned the wheel full to the right, adding his rudder to the oars for an even tighter, faster turn. When the Furia Africana was done wheeling around, Sabir saw a welcome sight. The Madonna di Ravenna was finally free of whatever caught her up in the swamp and was engaging with the Venetian galleys. She was flanked by Santa Giulia di Livorno and the Troia del Mare, the three of them closing with the three galleys on the Venetian right wing. A fourth enemy ship had diverted course and was moving to join the fray. That left the two galleys the Furia Africana had already tangled with plus the Leone di San Marco against Sabir’s own ship.

Behind the Venetian ships, the last Tuscan galley to emerge from the swamp, the San Gaudenzio di Rimini, was moving to help Furia Africana. This caused the Leone di San Marco to break off and engage the new arrival, leaving the same two galleys Sabir and his men already passed facing him. He decided to try and take the already damaged enemy vessel first.

“Full speed ahead,” he shouted. The Furia took off, zipping toward the wounded foe. With its full complement of oars still intact, the Furia managed to get around the enemy’s port side and turn on it. “Ramming speed!” commanded Sabir. The drumbeats blurred into a long hammering sound as his ship flew toward the enemy. A deafening cheer went up from Sabir’s sailors as the Furia Africana lived up to its name, violently smashing into the side of the Venetian galley as it tried and failed to turn toward them. Sabir’s archers and arquebussiers rained fire on their foes, slaying many of the already disoriented sailors. “Back water,” ordered the captain of the Furia Africana. When the galley reversed her oars, the green water of the Venetian lagoon rushed into the splintered hole she left behind, causing the enemy ship to list badly to port, spilling many into the water. His archers kept up a murderous fire on the unfortunates in the lagoon until Sabir ordered them to halt to conserve their arrows.

Suddenly a hail of fire came screaming over Sabir’s head from aft. The other galley had caught up and was closing fast as the Furia Africana’s oarsmen tried to bring her about. It was too late however. The cost of sinking one enemy ship was that their other foe had the initiative and the positional advantage. As the other galley pulled up along the Furia’s starboard side, flinging grappling hooks onto her deck, Sabir read her name: Cristo di Candia. As the two ships’ hulls banged together, Sabir and his men drew their swords. Both vessels’ archers and arquebusiers opened up on each other as the men of the Cristo di Candia came pouring over. Sabir’s own men met them at the rail but the first wave of Venetians swept over them. Sabir ran down from the quarterdeck and into the fray, looking for the Cristo di Candia’s captain. He thrust his sword into the first enemy sailor he came across, felling him instantly then turned and struck at another. This man parried the first blow but Sabir struck again and again until this enemy, too, fell onto the deck. Once again, the captain of the Furia Africana turned to look for his Venetian counterpart. He spotted the man as he cut down one of the Furia’s archers. Sabir charged at him, screaming a vicious war cry, his scimitar ready so strike. The Venetian turned and parried Sabir’s first blow, then his second and third. The two ships’ captains dueled back and forth as the melee swirled around them. Finally, the wily corsair landed a killing blow on the Venetian, causing him to crumple onto the wood. Sabir looked down to make sure the man was truly dead. As he did, a blow struck him on the back of the head but his small steel helm kept the blade from slicing through. Still, it tossed Sabir to the wood almost on top of the man he had just slain. Dazed, the captain rolled as the attacker thrust down toward him. Sabir grasped his scimitar in both hands and drove it up into the man’s belly.

As his assailant fell, Sabir lay on the ground staring up at the blue sky. Suddenly a hand reached down and grabbed him. It was one of his crewmen, who pulled Sabir back to his feet. “Captain sir,” said the young Italian man, “the enemy is retreating back to their ship.” Sabir looked past his comrade and saw it was true. His crew were already pursuing the Venetians back to the deck of their own ship. His heart swelled with pride as he watched Galeazzo Cagnano lead the surviving sailors of the Furia Africana onto the deck of the Cristo di Candia.

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The Cristo di Candia engages the Furia Africana

Suddenly, the crewmen’s face took on a look of horror. “Sir!” he shouted pointing behind Sabir. The captain turned around and saw what had so terrified his sailor. The Leone di San Marco was closing in on the Furia Africana at full speed, her three hundred oars churning through the water, her enormous ram, a pouncing golden lion, aimed straight for Furia Africana’s port side.

“Retreat! Retreat!” Sabir shouted to his men going over onto the Cristo di Candia. But it was too late. The clamor of the battle drowned out his voice and the men’s own momentum carried them onto the enemy vessel. The only thing to do now was to cut line with what crew he had left, reverse to avoid the Leone, and then somehow come back to get the rest of the crew later. They could not even go forward as the hulk of the other Venetian galley had sunk in the shallow water and was blocking their way ahead.

“Cut the lines! Back water!” he screamed to his men still on the deck. Sabir looked over his shoulder. It was too late. The Leone di San Marco was coming in too fast.

“Brace for impact!” he shouted as the golden lion came straight for his galley. As the ram smashed into the Furia Africana Sabir noticed that the lion’s teeth were made of silver and the eyes of ruby. Then he was thrown from the deck.

_____________________________________________________

“What a mess,” muttered Admiral del Rosso to his first mate, Claudio Strozzi.

“It is sir,” replied Strozzi, “but the day is still ours.”

Del Rosso grunted a reply as he stared out at the wreckage littering the Venetian lagoon. This is your fault, he screamed to himself in his head, this didn’t have to happen. His own lack of aggressiveness had led to the deaths of many good sailors. His dear friend Sabir al-Din Leta, one of the finest sailors he had ever known, likely among them. After del Rosso and his fleet had finally blasted their way through the Venetian ships guarding the entrance to the lagoon, he ordered them all to spread out and look for survivors. Of the seven galleys del Rosso sent into the lagoon, only two, the Madonna di Ravenna and the Santa Giulia di Livorno were still afloat. The other five were laying at the bottom of the lagoon. According to the captain of the Santa Giulia, the Venetian flagship Leone di San Marco was responsible for sinking three of their vessels by itself. Even worse, the Leone had escaped the battle almost unscathed, retreating to Venice when her captain realized he risked being flanked by del Rosso’s carracks.

Thankfully, the lagoon was shallow and lacked very strong currents at that point of the day, so the Tuscan ships were pulling up many survivors from both sides. If this battle had taken place in open sea it would be a different story. Still, far too many men had died. Del Rosso went into the day praying for a great victory. Indeed, his fleet had won that victory. Still, he felt sour. He tried to be too clever, thought too highly of his own genius. Sabir had warned him but he didn’t listen.

Suddenly a cry went up from some of his crew. “More survivors!” they shouted. Del Rosso hurried down to the main deck and peered over the edge. There, in the murky green water of the lagoon, were three men clinging to a galley oar. One of them was dark skinned, his golden cloak tattered but still attached and floating lazily behind him. It was unmistakably Sabir al-Din Leta, grinning up at the crew of the Sophie Louise as if he was just in there going for a swim.

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The Sophie Louise, flagship of the Tuscan navy

When Sabir and the other two men were pulled on board, the African former corsair strode up to del Rosso. He had a nasty looking gash on the back of his head and he was soaking wet, but otherwise looked fine. He was also grinning.

“About time you wretched old smuggler,” he shouted, embracing del Rosso and soaking the front of his red and gold doublet.

“I’m sorry brother,” replied del Rosso apologetically, “we never should have…we…I should have listened to you.”

“What are you going on about?” asked Sabir with feigned curiosity, “we just won a great victory. The banner of your beloved Medici flies over the lagoon of Venice. La Serenissima is within our grasp.”

Del Rosso could not believe it. This man had just endured the most brutal fighting of the battle, had his ship sunk, and still here he was laughing and joking. Then again, Sabir was always like this. In battle he was intense and focused, but immediately before and after, one would think he was getting ready to go for a leisurely stroll. “You…you lost your ship,” said del Rosso as if Sabir needed reminding. The admiral knew how much his friend cherished that ship. When he was still a corsair raiding and pillaging on the authority of Usman I, Sultan of Tunis, the ship was called Bane of Christendom but Sabir had it renamed after he left the service of the Sultan and picked Furia Africana, or African Fury, instead.

“It is no matter,” replied Sabir, “after the rewards we will get from your Grand Duke, I will have enough wealth to build myself an even grander ship. One with guns. I will name it, Africano Furioso, just like that book you gave me.”

Del Rosso finally allowed himself to smile. His friend’s indomitable spirit lifted his own. He patted Sabir on the back. “When we get back to Tuscany, I will see to it that you are rewarded for what you did here today.”

“Very well my friend,” said Sabir shaking del Rosso’s hand. “You are one of the only men I trust. Tonight, instead of thinking of my ship and the battle and death, I will dream of my future villa in Tuscany, with a pretty little Italian wife, some sheep, a vineyard, and peace and quiet.”

“That sounds quite good to me,” said del Rosso.

“Survivors!” came another shout from the crew of the Sophie Louise. Survivors, thought del Rosso to himself, that is a good word.
 

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Chapter 31: A Wedding of Opportunity, 1557-1563

The Po River is the largest river in Italy in terms of both length and water discharge. Its tributaries surrounding river valley, also known as the Val Padana in Italian, form the agricultural heartland of the peninsula. Over the years, the Republic of Florence and its successor the Grand Duchy of Tuscany continued to acquire more and more of the river and its environs. They first took land in the Val Padana in 1499 with their victory in the First Italian War. In 1528, with the annexation of the Duchy of Ferrara, Florence completed its conquest of the lower Po Valley, the so-called Bassa Padana. By 1547, with the Peace of Milan, the now Grand Duchy of Tuscany pushed its territory upriver, just short of Pavia. In the decade since, the Val Padana, often the site of battles and devastation during wars in Italy, had enjoyed relative peace and stability. Despite being on the Tuscan-Venetian frontier, it was completely untouched in the recently concluded conflict between the two states.

That period of peace led to prosperity and increased productivity. Additionally, new forms of agricultural technology were introduced to the region during the mid-Sixteenth Century. While the Church or the Tuscan administration would have been loath to admit it at the time, a great deal of the technological progress and innovation occurred as an indirect result of the Protestant Reformation.

The Po Valley, particularly the provinces of Modena and Ferrara, were the center of the Reformation in Italy. With their rights in these provinces guaranteed by the “Peace of Florence” of 1539 and under the political protection of Camillo I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara, the new Christian faiths found a home in the Catholic Church’s backyard. The Duke of Ferrara was a powerful and influential figure in Tuscany. A dashing soldier and patron of the arts figure now in his thirties, he combined his family wealth with charm and a sharp mind. When he was not spending time at court in Florence, he was back home in Ferrara hosting the cream of the Reformation’s intellectuals and theologians at his court. Ferrara became a hot spot for all manner of Protestants wanting to visit Italy. Among them were engineers and men of science from the Low Countries.

These experts, such as the engineer Hans van de Camp, combined their knowledge of land drainage with local customs and techniques in use since Antiquity to improve agricultural output. They used bedded systems with ridges and furrows that removed excess water quickly as there was an excess in rainfall. In addition to reclaiming more land for dry crops, they also improved the region’s rice production. The Po’s massive regular floods made the area optimal for growing rice. However, it also made it more difficult to harvest. The introduction of check gates allowed the fields to remain submerged and then to be drained only when needed, specifically for harvesting. As a result of the new techniques combined with an extended period of peace and stability in the area, agricultural output increased significantly.

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Improved drainage technology increased agricultural output

The average peasant of northern Italy lived an unpredictable existence. Particularly in the Bassa Padana, where the Po’s floods were both necessary for the growth of crops but also devastating acts of God that could submerge entire villages, there was never a sure thing. There were few things they could hold on to steadily and it is little wonder that the severe teachings of Luther and Calvin found fertile ground in these lands. Individual salvation through faith in God alone was an attractive idea. It is also what made the Estes, and Camillo in particular so popular. Despite Catholic propaganda against him, the Duke of Ferrara was a good ruler who genuinely tried to improve the lot of his people. It was not just an offhanded boast when the Protestant composer Lodovico Agostini, who enjoyed the generous patronage of Duke Camillo and was a regular at his court, boasted that, “every peasant in this province would die for the Duke, for his protection has brought them closer to God.”

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Camillo d'Este, Duke of Ferrara and leader of Tuscany's Protestant faction

The increased agricultural output of the Val Padana in the 1550s and 60s led to a gradual increase in the political power of the Protestants. Despite the continuing efforts of the Church with the on and off assistance of the Medici regime, the Reformation continued to grow in Italy. By 1560, the provinces of Mantua and Cremona joined Modena and Ferrara with a majority of the population following Reformation faiths. Mantua was mostly under the sway of Lutheranism while Cremona, like much of the Duchy of Milan to which it once belonged, fell under the sway of the Calvinists.

The Catholics of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, from the top of the aristocracy down to the peasantry grew ever more alarmed. Even some of the previously more moderate Catholic aristocrats of the Val Padana began to change sides. In the fall of 1560, the leader of the so-called “Ultra-Catholic” faction, Duke Odoardo I Farnese of Parma, requested permission from Francesco Stefano I to raise an army and march against the Protestant cities. The Bentivoglio and Malatesta families, rulers of Bologna and Rimini respectively, backed him and declared they would raise money and recruit men for his cause. Duke Vincenzo Spadolini of Mantua, a Catholic who nevertheless pursued a policy of toleration in his duchy, protested and promised to resist any efforts by Parma and the other Catholic cities of the Po Valley to attack Mantua. Duke Camillo went further swearing to take up arms against anyone who attacked Protestants anywhere in violation of the Peace of Florence. Only the intervention of the Grand Duke’s mother, Caterina da Montefeltro, leader of the peace faction stopped the men from coming to blows. Now the old wise woman of the court, Caterina invited the belligerent dukes and their families to each spend some time at a different Medici estate to cool down. While this bought her son time to think and decide how to handle the matter, it only pushed the issue down the road.

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Odoardo I Farnese, Duke of Parma

Beyond the religious matter, the conflict between Farnese and Este highlighted another issue Francesco Stefano and his successors had to face: the disjointed political organization of Tuscany. The issue dated back to the end of the First Italian War of 1496-99, when the Republic of Florence first expanded east of the Apennines under the administration of Gonfaloniere Antonio Grimaldi. Grimaldi’s foreign minister, the legendary statesman Niccoló Machiavelli co-opted the local leadership of the conquered areas and in the interest of internal stability allowed them a great deal of autonomy. Machiavelli’s precedent of leaving local political structures intact so long as they remained loyal to Florence continued in later conquests.

As a result of these policies, by the 1560s, four duchies existed nestled within the structure of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany. These were Urbino ruled by the Montefeltros, Ferrara ruled by the Estes, Mantua ruled by the Spadolinis, and Parma ruled by the Farnese. Each duke wielded considerable political and economic power. Also, as they were responsible for recruiting local troops to contribute to the Tuscan army, they also often found their way into the upper ranks of the military. Francesco Stefano campaigned with all four dukes and was close personal friends with Vincenzo Spadolini and greatly admired Camillo d’Este. He had the greatest antipathy for Odardo Farnese but nevertheless admired the Duke of Parma’s courage and skill as a battle commander. In Francesco Stefano’s first ever battle in command of the army, it was Odoardo’s ferocious cavalry charge that broke the Papal line at the Battle of Lake Bracciano.

Duke Renato of Urbino, Francesco Stefano’s uncle, and the one duke not involved in the fray, remained a committed Conciliatore, favoring tolerance and reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants. The Montefeltros and Medici were close allies ever since the marriage between Caterina and Cesare dé Medici.

However, the ranks of the Conciliatori were thinning. Even the merchants of Florence, Siena, and Lucca, once stalwart supporters of religious peace, were beginning to switch sides. For them, the main concern was what was good for business. As the Catholic-Protestant tensions dragged on and the risk of open conflict increased, more and more of the big mercantile companies started to favor suppression of the Reformation. The way they viewed it, a brief but decisive religious war would be rough to weather in the short term but potentially offered better long term stability. On the other hand, the continued religious tension only kept uncertainty up, and uncertainty was bad for business.

The religious conflict threatened to tear the Grand Duchy apart. It nearly happened once before with the Brucciolani Rebellion of 1539 but all-out war was avoided due to the intervention of Grand Duchess Caterina. Francesco Stefano however, despite his decisiveness in the heat of battle, wavered when it came to momentous domestic matters. The first signs of this became apparent with his half-hearted enactment of the Counter-Reformation in Tuscany in 1548. He sought to appease all parties, and instead succeeded in angering them all. Now however, the risk was even higher. His wife, Grand Duchess Sophie Louise, just like her mother-in-law before her, came up with a plan to bring everyone back from the precipice. This time it would involve a marriage alliance.

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Coats of Arms of the Houses of Este (left) and Farnese (right)

The Grand Duchess had the example of her own wedding to show her how big of a deal a properly concocted wedding could be. It is difficult to understate the importance of her marriage to Francesco Stefano as far as the House of Medici was concerned. The Medici were less than two centuries removed from being shopkeepers and moneylenders and despite their considerable and undeniable wealth and political power, they were looked down upon by most Royal families in Italy and Europe. The realities of geopolitics helped though. Tuscany was the undeniable power in Italy and both France and Austria liked having a friendly power on their southern flanks. Accordingly, this made the Medici able to secure marriage alliances with both. The first was Margherita dè Medici's marriage to Emperor Maximilian I in 1533. Though that did result in her briefly becoming a prisoner of the Ottoman Sultan in 1544, it otherwise worked out well for both sides. Still, Margherita's children were Habsburgs. Francesco Stefano's children on the other hand would stay in Tuscany and be the heirs to the Grand Duchy, carrying the blood of the venerable House of Valois. The union once and for all assured the Medici's place among the high houses of European nobility.

By 1560 however, a domestic marriage alliance became the focus of the family's efforts. Camilo d'Este was still unmarried at age 36. Sophie Louise now wanted to join the Protestant House of Este with the ruling Catholic Medici. This alliance would send a strong signal to the various religious minority sects that Sophie Louise and Francesco Stefano were serious about reconciliation. Likewise, she thought it would show the Catholics that the followers of the Reformation could be integrated into society.

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Diplomatic flexibility was used for domestic as well as foreign policy purposes

Sophie Louise got Francesco Stefano to agree to marry their daughter Lucrezia to the Duke of Ferrara when she turned fifteen years old in August of 1562. The Duke, who would be 36 by then, was a Protestant, but he was also wealthy, charming, politically powerful, and considered one of the most handsome men at court. For Camilo, the prospect of an alliance with the Medici was also desirable. It would give both him and his coreligionists political protection and legitimize their faith in Italy.

When it came to planning the details for the wedding however, numerous points of contention came up. The first had to do with the line of succession. Though Lucrezia had two brothers, the older Crown Prince Filippo and the younger Prince Francesco, any of her male children and their descendants would have a claim, however distant, to the title of Grand Duke of Tuscany. The Catholic party feared the possibility, however remote, of any children of the Duke of Ferrara becoming Protestants and then taking the throne. To prevent this, Lucrezia was forced to abandon her position in the line of succession.


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Princess Lucrezia de' Medici


The second issue had to do with the location of the wedding. While Camillo himself was a court favorite and, because he practiced his faith privately, was not under any accusations of heresy from the Church. However, many of the duke’s supporters and close friends were. These were usually writers, preachers, theologians, and others who were accused of “spreading heresey” by encouraging conversions outside the provinces of Modena and Ferrara, where that sort of thing was allowed under the terms of the Peace of Florence. Sophie Louise needed to come up with a solution that would allow the wedding to take place without coming into Tuscany proper, wherein Francesco Stefano would be forced to enforce the terms of the Counter-Reformation.

Her first choice was to turn to Cornelio Bentivoglio, Lord of Bologna. The Bentivoglio family were Catholic and close allies of the Medici and the Grand Duchess felt she could control them. Bologna was almost exactly halfway between Ferrara and Florence and presented a good location. However, in recent years, the Bentivoglio had migrated from the Toleranti side to the Ultra-Catholic faction, culminating in their open support for the Duke of Parma’s proposed military expedition against Ferrara and the expulsion of Protestants from the University of Bologna. Additionally, there was the issue of the historical rivalry between Bologna on the one hand and the Protestant bastions of Ferrara and Modena on the other. This rivalry had nothing to do with religion but instead dated back to the struggles of the high Middle Ages. Most famously, Modena had defeated Bologna at the Battle of Zappolino in 1325. Despite all being united under the rule of Florence and the Grand Dukes of Tuscany, the distrust and rivalry continued. Sophie Louise, being French, knew nothing of the enmity between the Emilian cities. When she proposed this to all parties concerned, she was met with quick and firm no’s all around.

Unsure what to do, Sophie Louise turned to her mother-in-law, Caterina. Caterina proposed using her familial hometown of Urbino. Her cousin, Duke Renato, was a moderate Catholic who favored tolerance and reconciliation between the faiths. Caterina even got Renato to offer his own private ships as transport to the Duke of Ferrara and his entourage so that they would not have to pass through the Bentivoglio and Malatesta dominated province of Romagna. This second offer was accepted.

The final point of contention was the marriage ceremony itself. Camillo refused to attend mass while Lucrezia insisted on doing so. To appease both her daughter and her soon to be son-in-law, Sophie Louise came up with a creative compromise. They would hold a public ceremony outside the Cathedral of Urbino then the groom and his party would retire to the opulent home of Guglielmo Odasi, a well to do tolerant Catholic in the city, while the bride and her party would go into the Cathedral to hear mass. Afterward, the parties would reconvene for a big celebration in Urbino’s Ducal Palace, seat of the Montefeltro family. The date for the wedding was set for Saturday 22 August 1562.

Despite the oppressive heat, a vast crowd gathered, pushing and sweating their way into the Piazza del Duomo. Urbino is not a large city, and with thousands of people coming in from far and wide, the relatively small piazza was not large enough to hold them. They overflowed through the narrow winding streets around the cathedral and the Palazzo Ducale. Urbino had never witnessed such a splendid display of opulence nor such a gathering of notable figures. The focal point of the spectators’ attention was a long, high platform, ostentatiously hung with cloth of gold erected on the south side of the church. It was there that the ceremony uniting Princess Lucrezia dé Medici and Duke Camillo d’Este would take place.

A royal wedding was a source of fascination anywhere in Europe, but in a provincial town like Urbino, it was an absolute sensation. This one was meant to confer prestige and legitimacy through its magnificence, to show the world that the Medici were serious about religious peace in their realm. Peasants and country gentry came in from miles around. They mingled with the hundreds of guests and attendants from Florence, Ferrara, Siena, Bologna, Parma, and the other cities of the Grand Duchy. Foreign emissaries were present as well. Not just those from traditional Tuscan allies like France and Austria, but also notably from a number of Protestant German states. They were there to witness what Catholic-Protestant reconciliation would look like in Southern Europe. The mob of onlookers sweating under the sun that Saturday in August were not disappointed.

The bridegroom wore a rich doublet and cape of white and blue satin, the colors of the venerable House of Este, embroidered with diamonds and pearls. He was the embodiment of Protestant power in Tuscany and he meant to show that. On either side of him stood his Catholic friend, Vincenzo Spadolini, Duke of Mantua, and Silvio Giacomelli, one of Italy’s foremost Protestant intellectuals. However, the bulk of the onlookers were there to see the fifteen-year-old bride, Princess Lucrezia. She was beautiful and dressed in a sweeping white ermine trimmed gown. Atop her head sat of jeweled crown of gold encrusted with diamonds and topped with a large fleur-de-lis in the center. The jewelers of Florence, it was said, were able to feed their families for a decade off of the money the Medici paid for Lucrezia’s crown. She had been gifted many other jewels and clothing as well. Francesco Stefano, racked with guilt at forcing his only daughter into a marriage she detested at such a young age, did what he could to make up for it and possibly to assuage his own feelings of responsibility. He knew that Lucrezia’s heart belonged to Alessandro Farnese, son of the Duke of Parma. Now, the devoutly Catholic princess was being married off to the much older Camillo, whose faith she considered to be heretical.

For her part Lucrezia was dutiful. Despite all her personal sadness and misgivings toward the marriage, she also truly believed that it was for the good of Tuscany and for her family. She walked to the altar with dignity and solemnly stood through the ceremony, reciting her vows and saying all the correct things. Nevertheless, the almost entirely Catholic population of Urbino made no secret of their aversion toward Camillo d’Este and, to add more insult, loudly cheered Alessandro Farnese at any chance they could. When the ceremony ended, and Lucrezia and Camillo were joined as man and wife, the two sides parted ways. While the Duke of Ferrara and his entourage, which included some Catholics like Vincenzo Spadolini, walked the several blocks to the Palazzo Odasi, escorted by soldiers of the Grand Duke’s personal guard to keep the peace, the mass of Catholics made their way raucously into the Cathedral. The mass was given by Cardinal Francesco Bandini who also read a written message from Pope Alexander VI asking that the marriage “help us bring back our brothers and sisters like errant sheep who return to their rightful flock.” After the mass the crowds dispersed. The afternoon was spent recuperating and waiting out the intolerably hot afternoon hours. Then, the party began.


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Interior of the Cathedral of Urbino


Just like the decorations for the wedding ceremony, the after party was clearly a costly affair. The Medici wanted to show their wealth and prestige but so did the Montefeltro who, after all, were the hosts. With both wealthy families contributing substantial sums, it was inevitable that it would be an opulent affair. There were five musical bands, dancers, acrobats, and actors as entertainment. The guests feasted on a fifteen course meal complemented by wines brought in from around Italy. The merriment went on into the night and for a while it seemed the inter-faith feud was forgotten.

Then, at some point during the festivities at the Palazzo Ducale, Lucrezia started dancing with Alessandro Farnese. It was an open secret that the princess had long been in love with the dashingly handsome heir to Parma and that the feeling was mutual. Almost everyone present had consumed a hearty amount of alcohol and, as happens in such cases, men’s emotions ran high and their sense of honor became more fragile. Accounts of what actually set off the confrontation differ between Protestants and Catholic sources. The printer and theologian Sebastien Uffenbach of Frankfurt, part of Camillo’s entourage, wrote back to his German acquaintences that, “the rascal Alessandro of Parma then violated and dishonored the noble Duke of Ferrara’s young bride, causing the Duke to rightfully become angry and chastise the offending youngster.” On the other hand, the Catholic merchant Paolo Porcacione remarked, “the Princess and young Farnese were just having some good fun. If Este and his fellow Protestants take such offense at people enjoying life, they would be better served just leaving Italy.” Lucrezia, for her part, had a clear opinion on the matter. Writing to her friend Isabella Panciatichi, she explained, “our dear Ale [Alessandro Farnese] was just showing me the same affection he always had. This caused the Duke, my husband, to say the most cruel and and mean spirited things to him.”

Whatever the case, what is undisputed is that the situation clearly and quickly escalated. Alessandro Farnese, indignant at Camillo d'Este's words drew his sword and challenged the older man to a duel. Este, a skilled swordsman and veteran of multiple battles and campaigns was more than happy to oblige. The Grand Duchess, watching what was meant to be her signature act of domestic diplomacy melting down before her eyes, implored her husband to do something. Francesco Stefano, with his usual bravado, stood and ordered both men to sheath their swords, adding, "and should either of you refuse, I challenge you to duel me before fighting the other." The older and more levelheaded Duke of Ferrara immediately put his weapon away and begged the Grand Duke's pardon. The younger and more hot blooded Alessandro Farnese instead stood there, sword drawn, apparently contemplating the possibility of a fight to the death with his sovereign. He was only talked down by several of his comrades within the Catholic camp. Disaster apparently averted, the party goers returned to their revelry.

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Alessandro Farnese, heir to the Duchy of Parma

Unfortunately for all involved, that was not the end of the feuding. When the party concluded in the wee hours of the morning, the drunk and disorderly crowd spilled out onto the streets.

As Camillo d’Este and his entourage left the Palazzo Ducale along with Lucrezia and her attendant ladies, some Catholics, Farnese and Prince Francesco dé Medici among them, began hurling insults at the Protestant men. The reignited the confrontation. In what would later come to be mockingly referred to as The Battle for Lucrezia dé Medici, fights broke out which morphed into a series of running brawls through the narrow streets of Urbino. By sunrise two Protestant men were dead, dozens on both sides were injured, and the Medici hopes for a grand inter-confessional peace were up in flames.

Several hours later, the Duke of Ferrara, Lucrezia, her ladies, and his followers all left Urbino in great haste to head to Pesaro. From there they would boarded Duke Renato’s ships and sailed for the safety of Ferrara. Grand Duke Francesco Stefano summoned Farnese, his own son Francesco, and several other high ranking Catholics and launched into a tirade against them. The meeting got heated when Farnese accused the Grand Duke of coddling the Protestants and betraying the Church. The emotionally volatile young Alessandro then broke down, confessed to a now amused Francesco Stefano that he was desperately in love with Lucrezia, and pleaded for the right to duel Camillo d’Este for her hand. Francesco Stefano gently declined but embraced Alessandro and the tense meeting ended without further incident. Farnese and his entourage left for Parma the next day.

Still, this did not end the ordeal that was the Medici-Este wedding. The Grand Duke and Duchess, along with the rest of the court, returned to Florence the following week, arriving on 30 August. A week after that, a devastating bout of sweating sickness broke out in the capital and its surrounding areas. was a mysterious and highly contagious disease that first struck England, and later continental Europe, in a series of epidemics. The onset of symptoms was dramatic and sudden, with death often occurring within hours. Though its cause remains unknown, it has been suggested that an unknown species of hantavirus was responsible for the outbreak. The disease tended to occur in summer and early autumn. The symptoms and signs as described by physician John Caius and others were as follows: The disease began very suddenly with a sense of apprehension, followed by cold shivers (sometimes very violent), giddiness, headache and severe pains in the neck, shoulders and limbs, with great exhaustion. After the cold stage, which might last from half an hour to three hours, the hot and sweating stage followed. The characteristic sweat broke out suddenly without any obvious cause. Accompanying the sweat, or after was a sense of heat, headache, delirium, rapid pulse, and intense thirst. Palpitation and pain in the heart were frequent symptoms. No skin eruptions were noted by observers including Caius. In the final stages, there was either general exhaustion and collapse, or an irresistible urge to sleep, which Caius thought to be fatal if the patient was permitted to give way to it. One attack did not offer immunity, and some people suffered several bouts before dying.

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A devastating bout of Sweating Sickness hit Florence in the late summer of 1562

Francesco Stefano sent Sophie Louise and the rest of his family away to the Medici country estate Villa di Montevettolini. However, he and Crown Prince Filippo stayed behind in a show of solidarity with the people. This display of courage won the Medici a great deal of popular good will and put them above suspicion from the rampant rumors that began circulating. The majority of these involved the idea that the Protestants had purposely infected members of the court in order to ravage Catholic Florence with disease.

Among the victims of the epidemic were General Giuliano Vasari, commander in chief of the army, and several other high ranking military officers. Hoping to avoid having his army devastated by the disease, Francesco Stefano ordered Vasari’s successor, General Giuseppe Terreni, to take the army away from their base at Campi Bisenzio outside the capital and move to the fortress at Ancona, east of the Apennines and by the sea. This, in turn, led to a new round of rumors. The Catholics of Tuscany proper came to believe that the Duke of Ferrara made a pact with the devil and had commandeered the army by using the sweating sickness to kill off the Catholic officers. The Protestants, so the story went, were going to force the army to convert to their heretical faith and then turn it around to march on Florence and burn the city to the ground. The Protestants, on the other hand, believed that the Duke of Parma and his son had talked Francesco Stefano into crushing their sect and that the army was headed to Ferrara. In reality, the army got to Ancona, began drilling and training, and then stayed right there. For months, spies from both sides watched closely, waiting and waiting for the army to pursue some nefarious mission. They never did.

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The death of General Giuliano Vasari was overshadowed by contemporary events

By early 1563, the sweating sickness epidemic passed, though not before killing several thousands, and life began returning to normal in Florence. Even in the Emilia-Romagna a sort of cold peace set in between Parma and the Catholics on the one hand and Ferrara and the Protestants on the other. Lucrezia dé Medici, though unhappy in her marriage, did her duty and stayed with her husband in her new home. The immediate danger of open war between Catholic and Protestant passed for the time being. However, the hard feelings would linger and never again would the two faiths seriously seek to reconcile in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

 
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Idhrendur

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I have to say yet again that I love the character focused updates like this.
 

Hadhod

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Absolutely fantastic writing. I was thinking about starting my own Florence AAR, but it would look like a preschool kid's writing compared to this. Consider me subbed!
 

JerseyGiants88

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Love this! Spent the last two days catching up, consider myself subbed. Looking forward to you next installments

I have to say yet again that I love the character focused updates like this.

Absolutely fantastic writing. I was thinking about starting my own Florence AAR, but it would look like a preschool kid's writing compared to this. Consider me subbed!

Thanks so much for the kind words. @Hadhod if you want to do your own Florence AAR you absolutely should. The beauty of doing AARs for Paradox games is that the game will always lead to different history and different styles of AARs make them interesting reads regardless. Maybe in yours Savonarola will survive the trial by fire and establish a fundamentalist theocracy to challenge the Papal State for spiritual supremacy in Italy. You should totally do it.

The last chapter was inspired by a book I am currently reading called The Rival Queens by Nancy Goldstone about Catherine de' Medici, Marguerite de Valois, and the French Wars of Religion. If you don't know much about the French Wars of Religion (I didn't before I started reading this book) I highly recommend it. The politics surrounding the wedding between Lucrezia and Camillo d'Este were based on the real historical marriage of Marguerite de Valois and Henry of Navarre (minus the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of course). I am actually quite happy that the Reformation did relatively well in Italy in my game as it has given me a chance to add a lot of religio-political background to the AAR that otherwise would have been lacking. It will continue to play a role in the coming chapters as well. I am hoping to have the next update posted in the next day or two. Until then, thanks, as always, for reading.

On the topic of book recommendations, I am also working my way through C.V. Wedgewood's epic The Thirty Years War which, if you have the patience for it, is an incredible history of that transformative conflict.
 
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JerseyGiants88

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Chapter 32: Il Mezzogiorno, 1563-1570

The Italian peninsula south of Rome is a vastly different place from the north. Known as the Mezzogiorno (Italian for “Midday”) or Il Meridione, southern Italy was culturally, linguistically, and gastronomically distinct from the north. Aside from geographic proximity there was little to link the overwhelmingly rural and impoverished population of the Mezzogiorno to their more urbanized and wealthy northern cousins. The two regions even had distinct histories, with the south experiencing waves of invasions by the Muslim Arabs, the Franks, and the Normans. The Mezzogiorno lacked the tradition of independent cities and popularly administered communes that characterized much of the north during the Medieval period. Even under the rule of the Medici this history imbued the subjects, or at least in those who owned property, with a sense of political agency. There was no such tradition in the south.

The House of Anjou, a cadet branch of the French House of Capet, ruled Naples from 1246 to 1442. Beginning in that year, the Kingdom of Naples came under the rule of the Crown of Aragon when it was conquered by Alfonso V. Then, in 1501, the kingdom broke away from Spanish rule when Ferrante Boncompagni’s rebellion, established him as King Ferrante I. He was supported by a large coalition of nobles, both of native and Iberian origin, who were tired of paying the heavy taxes levied on southern Italy after the union of Castile and Aragon.

Since then, the Boncompagni ruled over a largely backward and impoverished kingdom. The dynasty, which initially enjoyed widespread popularity for throwing off the “Iberian yoke”, came to be despised over the years. There was little civil administration to speak of outside the capital and a few of the other major cities and the aristocracy was harsh and abusive toward the peasantry. King Ferrante I ruled for just over fifty years, from 1 April 1501 to 28 April 1551. He was a crafty and ruthless king who maintained power by playing his political subordinates off against each other and by torturing those who stepped too far out of line. He made his family wealthy but otherwise failed to improve the lot of the kingdom. His son and successor, King Leandro I, took the throne when he was just twenty years old and promised to strengthen and modernize Naples. Leandro’s problems were the opposite of his father’s. Instead of being a ruthless man in pursuit of power, he appeared to be genuinely dedicated to improving his kingdom’s and his people’s lot. However, he lacked the strength of will and the political skill to manage and coerce the numerous unwieldy nobles who held local power. Every tentative step toward reform, from restructuring the civil administration to improving the army, was met with stiff resistance from the entrenched power brokers.

His failures were not for lack of trying. As soon as he came to power in 1551, King Leandro elevated four of his childhood friends to high offices in his administration. Two of them were the brothers Carlo and Vincenzo Cybo-Malaspina to run his tax collection and reform the civil administration. The pair were descendants of the great Florentine reformer Vitale Cybo-Malaspina, interior minister under Gonfaloniere Antonio Grimaldi. They worked tirelessly to undermine the powerful landowning aristocracy and to introduce greater efficiency into the government. To modernize his army, Leandro I turned to another pair of old friends, Filippo Grimaldi di Busca and Ladislao Piombante. These two sought to centralize the recruitment and training process and to introduce modern tactical thought into the Neapolitan army. They were great admirers of the Florentine general Carlo Ulivelli and hoped to emulate his training and leadership style.
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King Leandro I of Naples

Then, as with most political issues in this time period, there was the religious question. The south of Italy was populated overwhelmingly by devoutly Catholic peasants but that did not stop the Reformation from making inroads even there. Whatever progress King Leandro and his intrepid friends were able to make was undone when the King of Naples converted to Protestantism in 1561. The leading voice of the Reformation in southern Italy was Baldassare Altieri of l’Aquila and his teachings influenced Leanro I. Altieri’s native city of l’Aquila along with the city of Foggia became the two main centers of the Reformation in the Mezzogiorno. Despite the pleas of his advisors, including the Cybo-Malaspina brothers, the king insisted that he had to remain honest and true. A wiser, less scrupulous ruler, like his father, would have dismissed conversion or, at least, kept his new faith secret. But Leandro was too honest and too earnest. News of his conversion wiped out whatever support he enjoyed within his own realm and earned him the enmity of the Catholic Church.

The specter of the Reformation loomed large over Italy. The Church had given up hope of quashing the heresy in Germany and Scandinavia and considered the spread of Lutheranism and Calvinism in Italy to be a dire threat. Pope Innocent IX, inaugurated on 29 August 1567, sought to roll back Protestantism's gains on the peninsula. While it was bad enough that the Medici tolerated heretics in some parts of their realm, it was unacceptable that some leaders had actually converted openly. King Leandro's Lutheranism made him a major target for Pope Innocent.
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Pope Innocent IX

For all the historical enmity between the Medici and Catholicism, the Holy Father turned to them as the one force in Italy that could protect the Church from the Reformation, in the temporal realm at least.

Accordingly, Innocent dispatched envoys to Florence bearing the proposal for a treaty between Tuscany and the Papal State. The Pope would give his blessing to the Tuscan invasion of Naples and endorse Prince Filippo as the true King of Naples. In return, Francesco Stefano had to agree to allow the Church and its Inquisition a free hand to stamp out the Reformed faiths in the south. There was to be no policy of toleration in the Mezzogiorno.

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The Pope's support helped further Tuscany's territorial ambitions

Despite his anti-Protestant zeal, Pope Innocent was also a realist and understood the domestic political issues facing the Tuscan Grand Duke. Therefore, he agreed that Francesco Stefano should publicize the Pope's endorsement of Tuscany's territorial ambitions but keep the agreement to crush the Neapolitan Protestants a secret. That kept the Protestant opposition at court in Florence to a minimum. Some, fearing the incorporation of a mass of devout Catholic peasants into the realm opposition the invasion anyway but most, hoping to maintain the good will of the sovereign and the moderate Catholics went along with the plan.

However, even with the support of the Pope, the matter was not as simple as marching the army south. There were serious foreign policy implications to consider. Since Naples was previously in a personal union under the House of Trastamara, Spain still had interest in reclaiming it. Ever since Neapolitan independence, the Trastamara hoped to take southern Italy back and made it clear they considered any invasion as a direct attack on their interests. However, their ability to influence events was severely degraded on 15 March 1563 when France declared war on them. Locked in a bitter struggle with their rival, there was little chance they would have the ability or the will to counter Medici designs on the Mezzogiorno.
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The outbreak of war between France and Spain cleared the path for the Tuscan invasion of Naples

France presented a more complex problem. As part of the conditions for Tuscan assistance in their last war against Savoy, Grand Duchess Sophie Louise convinced her brother, King Louis XV, to give up his claims to the crown of Naples as well as those of the rest of the French-based House of Valois. That left her son, Crown Prince Filippo, as the leading claimant to Naples through the Anjevin line. The Anjevins and the Valois shared common ancestry in the House of Capet. When the Anjevine line died out, the claim reverted to the Valois as the senior line descended from the now extinct Capetians. Despite the agreement, Francesco Stefano and his foreign minister, Gianfrancesco Lori, considered the matter delicate enough to send Sophie Louise back to France to clear the matter with King Louis.

The Grand Duchess’s trip back to her native land was eventful to say the least. The first leg of the journey, from Florence to Livorno, passed quietly enough. However, on the voyage from Livorno to Marseille, her ships were attacked by Barbary corsairs, leading to an intense battle in which the Tuscan sailors were able to fight off their foes. Upon arriving in the French port city, Sophie Louise learned that her brother the king was not in Paris but rather in southwestern France campaigning with his army. The Grand Duchess and her party found their way to the French camp outside Pamplona in Navarre, arriving on 16 April 1564. That night, she convinced her brothers, the King of France and the Duke of Anjou, to support the Tuscan invasion of southern Italy and to renounce their alliance with Naples. Two days later, the French army broke camp and began moving south with the goal of taking Zaragoza. Sophie Louise and her party went along for the ride. However, on 21 April the Spanish army met them at the town of Tudela on the west bank of the Ebro River and trounced the overconfident French and their king. Wave after wave of French charges broke against the Spanish tercios before General Ines de Suarez ordered a massive cavalry charge against Louis XV’s left flank. The Spanish horse routed their enemies so quickly that the Tuscan Grand Duchess and several of her ladies, positioned on a hill observing the battle, were captured before they realized what was happening. An incensed Sophie Louise, complaining that her rights as a neutral had been violated and that some of her ladies had been roughly treated by the Spanish cavalrymen, demanded to speak to General Suarez. Upon hearing what happened, the Spanish commander immediately ordered her and her party released. The ever-chivalrous Spaniard met with the Grand Duchess, apologized, granted her use of his personal tent for the evening, and arranged for her and her party to receive a military escort back to Barcelona from where they could board Spanish ships back to Livorno. Placated, the fiery Sophie Louise and the jovial General Suarez spent the evening discussing politics and affairs of state. She used the opportunity to gauge Spain’s interest in Naples and southern Italy. Suarez, a favorite at the court in Madrid, quickly discerned that his conversation partner was up to something but nevertheless indicated that in the face of French, Austrian, and Tuscan opposition, there was little chance the King of Spain would contest anything on the Italian mainland so long as his possessions of Sicily and Sardinia were left alone. When she finally returned home from her trip in late May of 1564, Sophie Louise informed her husband and his ministers that neither France nor Spain would interfere with a military operation against Naples.


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Grand Duchess Sophie Louise

With diplomatic considerations out of the way, Tuscany was free to go to war. The army under General Terreni spent the summer preparing itself for the coming campaign. Then, on 22 September 1564 the Grand Duchy of Tuscany declared war on the Kingdom of Naples. Francesco Stefano I personally read out the declaration of war from the balcony of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence to a cheering crowd. He referred to King Leandro I as “a villainous usurper and dangerous heretic.” He then pointed to his son, the Crown Prince Filippo standing to his right, and declared, “here is the true and rightful King of Naples.” When the Tuscan soldiers marched south, they carried the old Anjevine flag of Naples into battle alongside the banner of Tuscany and their own regimental colors.

The war itself was a short and lopsided affair. The decrepit and overmatched Neapolitian army, despite the efforts of di Busca and Piombante, was easily swept aside by the much larger, better trained, and better equipped Tuscans. On 21 October at the Battle of Chieti in the Abruzzi, General Terreni and Francesco Stefano cut off and annihilated the enemy force under Piombante’s command. After Chieti, the army split, with Francesco Stefano heading south to pursue any remaining Neapolitan forces in the field while Terreni marched west to besige Naples. Crown Prince Filippo accompanied Terreni, in order to both gain hands on experience in siege warfare and, more importantly, so that he could enter the city when it fell and declare himself king.

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The Battle of Chieti was the decisive encounter of the war

Then, on 11 April 1565, as his army was crossing the mountainous plateau of La Sila in Calabria on its way to besiege Reggio, Grand Duke Francesco Stefano I was killed along with seven other men when the mountain road they were taking gave way, causing a deadly landslide. The veteran commander Pietro Pierallini, took command of the army marching on Reggio.

Word of his father’s death reached Filippo outside the walls of Naples on 22 April. Less than a month later, on 20 May, the garrison surrendered. Grand Duke Filippo I rode triumphantly into the city at the head of the army alongside General Terreni. The Catholic majority in the city welcomed the invaders as liberators and after the garrison surrendered, roving mobs slaughtered Protestants on the streets and in their homes under the gaze of Tuscan soldiers. A week after that, Pope Innocent IX arrived to crown Filippo King of Naples at the Cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta and to declare that “the city of St. Gennaro has returned to the bosom of Holy Mother Church.”


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With the death of Francesco Stefano I, his son became Filippo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany and King of Naples. Filippo's brother, Prince Francesco became next in line for the throne

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Tuscany conquered Naples in May of 1565

Throughout the rest of the kingdom, the Tuscan army swept away all remaining resistance in its path. Papal Inquisitors accompanied the troops as they pushed south and, when attached to more devoutly Catholic regimental commanders, were often able to use them for their own counter-reforming purposes. In several instances, Tuscan troops went into Protestant majority towns and committed atrocities against the local population. The most notorious incident occurred at Foggia in the province of Capitanata, one of the main Protestant cities in the south. Troops under the command of Sigismondo Malatesta sacked the city and slaughtered all the inhabitants they could find regardless of whether they were Catholic or Protestant then burned much of the place to the ground. Malatesta later justified his killing of Catholics by claiming they were aiding and supporting heretics in violation of the Inquisition. He and other officers in command of units involved in similar actions were rarely disciplined.

Piombante and di Busca made one more desperate attempt to stop the Tuscans in the province of Capitanata. However, the hastily recruited army full of untrained peasants was no match. Terreni massed his guns and had them unleash a withering barrage of fire on the center of the enemy line. After less than two hours of fighting, the Neapolitan middle broke into disordered retreat colliding with the right wing, quickly transforming the battle into a rout.

On 22 January 1566, Reggio di Calabria, the final bastion of Neapolitan resistance, surrendered. King Leandro I, holding out in the fortress, became a prisoner of Tuscany. However, this defeat was not the end of Leandro I or the Kingdom of Naples. The initial goal of annexing the entirety of southern Italy gave pause to the new Grand Duke. Filippo I, unlike his father or his brother, was a cautious man. He understood the difficulty involved with acquiring, integrating, and governing such a large swath of land, with its diverse culture and different economic system, and so he allowed Leandro to keep the city of Naples and the province of Campania under three conditions. The first was that he provide Tuscany with the necessary assistance to begin incorporating the rest of his realm under the control of the Grand Duchy. The second was that he ancient Anjevine fortress, the imposing Castel Nuovo, be ceded to the Medici and garrisoned by Tuscan troops. The final condition was that Leandro formally recognize Filippo I as King of Naples. Leandro, under the terms of the treaty, would maintain administrative control of the city but use the lesser title Duke of Caserta. This meant that he also had to transfer his court to Caserta and would no longer be allowed to rule from Naples. It was a harsh peace. Leandro, however, had no choice but to accept it. Better to be Duke of Caserta than nothing at all. Despite some desperate, eleventh hour appeals to the Protestant powers of northern Europe, no help was forthcoming. Accordingly, on 5 February 1566, the now former King of Naples signed the Treaty of Reggio with Grand Duke Filippo I. All of the Mezzogiorno, with the exception of Naples and its surroundings, were now under the rule of Florence and the Medici.

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The peace terms imposed on Naples and Leandro I were harsh
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The imposing walls and towers of the Castel Nuovo, the ancient Anjevine fortress in Naples

This land grab doubled the size of the Grand Duchy and presented a formidable administrative challenge. The war and the years immediately preceding it stalled Tuscany’s efforts toward increased centralization and governmental reform. The religious conflict between Catholic and Protestant, while not in open war, highlighted the lack of control the Medici dynasty had over the powerful nobility. While Francesco Stefano I’s efforts to curb the power of the rural aristocracy had largely worked, the cost was to increase the power and influence of the big families in the provinces. As a result, the dukes of Parma, Mantua, Ferrara, and Urbino essentially ruled over a state within a state. The problem was less acute in Tuscany proper, where the old republican structures of Siena, Lucca, and Florence remained in place and forced a greater distribution of power in local affairs and less ability to counter or undermine the Grand Duke’s appointed administrators. In Emilia-Romagna and Urbino on the other hand, the powers of the families ruling over the cities or the provinces could only be checked by the direct intervention of the Grand Duke himself. That was a rare occurrence.

Filippo I decided to take a different approach. Unlike his father and great-grandfather, the new Grand Duke had to deal not only with Tuscany and the Emilia-Romagna, but also the newly annexed provinces of the Mezzogiorno as well as Verona and Treviso in the northwest, acquired in the previous war with Venice. It was no small task for a new ruler to handle.


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Filippo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany and King of Naples


To deal with it, he decided to heed the calls coming from some quarters for more representative national institutions. If the policies of his predecessors, which centralized power in a few influential families, had been unsuccessful, Filippo now aimed to try the opposite approach: dilute power once again. However, unlike the communes and the feudal system of the Medieval period, the new diffusion of power would be guided from the capital by the sovereign. To rule over the south and attempt to implement the new plan, Filippo appointed Pietro Pierallini, the thirty nine year old commander of the Reggimento Grimaldi. In addition to his distinguished battlefield accomplishments, Pierallini, born in Pistoia in 1527, was also a graduate of the University of Bologna and possessed large political ambitions. He made his administrative capital at Bari and from there set off to re-organize the Mezzogiorno.
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Calls for more representative institutions inspired Filippo I and Pierallini’s plans to govern the Mezzogiorno

Given wide latitude by the new King of Naples, Pierallini travelled to every province in the south setting up provincial councils. These bodies were designed to be representative advisory boards. In order to limit the influence of the aristocracy, the governor mandated that while all council members had to be property owners, merchants, artisans, and shopkeepers had to made up at least one quarter of the councils. In a heavily agricultural region that gave the mercantile classes a disproportionate share of the influence. Additionally, Pierallini restricted the councils so that they could only meet and conduct business in the provincial capitals, further limiting the aristocracy’s ability to wield power. Finally, he banned any Spaniards, who still made up a large portion of the landowners in the south, from participating in the councils.

The next step was for Pierallini to appoint actual provincial governors. Going forward, they would be nominated by the king and served at his pleasure. The provincial councils served as a consultative body to the governor. They could bring grievances to him and in turn he had the authority to act and declare laws and ordinances in the name of the king. The councils were also given a narrow set of issues upon which they were allowed to pass laws, but this was mostly meant to be symbolic. Overall, the provincial councils of the Mezzogiorno were less powerful than the republican assemblies of Siena, Lucca, and Florence in Tuscany. However, it still marked a significant increase in representation and centralized authority over anything seen in the south before.
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Pietro Pierallini

The conquest of southern Italy only served to further Tuscany's territorial ambitions. The addition of The Mezzogiorno, and particularly the ports of Bari and Taranto, provided the Medici with a window to the east. Grand Duke Filippo cast his eye to the former Venetian colony of Crete, now an independent duchy ruled by Duke Giacomo I of the House of Ptochos. The Tuscan merchants had long favored an alliance with Crete as it would guarantee them friendly ports and greater trade power projection in the eastern Mediterranean. Now they finally had the political motivation to add to it.

Since it was awarded independence from Venice in 1538 Crete maintained an uncertain position in the eastern Mediterranean, surrounded as it was by the Ottoman Empire and isolated from the rest of Catholic Europe. From the very beginning the Ptochos sought alliances with powerful European states in an effort to ward off Turkish aggression and designs on their territory. However, the island's distance and the fear of being dragged into war with Constantinople kept the great houses of Europe sympathetic but unwilling to commit to an alliance. Even the Habsburgs, whom the Cretans owed for their independence were cautious. Now however, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany presented itself as a strong and willing partner.

Filippo organized a marriage between his younger brother, the hot tempered and ambitious Prince Francesco and Duke Giacomo's daughter, Princess Ariadne. Francesco, youthful and fashioning himself as an adventuring soldier, was initially resistant to the prospect of being married off at such a young age. However, Filippo convinced him to go to Crete and meet with Duke Giacomo and Princess Ariadne personally. The prince arrived in Candia on 26 February 1570 and he was soon won over by Ariadne's charm and beauty. He was so taken by his prospective bride that he decided to take an extended sojourn in Crete. Officially he claimed that he wanted to review Duke Giacomo's army and navy and to visit the island to get a grasp on what Tuscany's potential new ally had to offer. However, Francesco mostly wanted to court the princess before marrying her. The pair were finally wed on 5 April in the Castello a Mare, the grand old Venetian fortress guarding the entrance to the harbor of Candia.

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The marriage of Prince Francesco and Princess Ariadne of Crete extended Tuscan influence eastward

The new couple left Crete two weeks later stopping in Brindisi on the coast of Puglia before sailing around southern Italy to Viareggio. Princess Ariadne by all accounts dazzled the Florentine court upon her arrival at the Palazzo Gran Ducale. She had a Venetian tutor growing up and as a result spoke excellent Italian and was well versed in Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, which impressed the literary snobs of the Tuscan capital.

Florence and the Medici now controlled almost all of the Italian peninsula from Treviso in the northeast down to Reggio di Calabria in the south. The title of Filippo I now included King of Naples in addition to Grand Duke of Tuscany and his other titles. Soon however, the concerns of the Grand Duchy would turn north. The religious skirmishes that had taken place in Italy would soon pale in comparison to what was about to explode in Germany and Central Europe. The Holy Roman Empire would soon be ravaged by religious civil war, and the rest of Europe was going to follow it into the abyss.
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Europe in 1570

 
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Idhrendur

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Wow, that's quite the conquest. I worry it might prove more costly than its worth for a while, though.
 

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Tuscany more or less is Italy now.
 

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Chapter 33: Into the Abyss, 1570-1571

From Spain to Poland, from France to the Russian steppes and the icebound ports of the Baltic, the arch of European politics rested on the keystone of Germany. That immense conglomerate of interdependent states which went by the name of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, formed both the geographic and the political center of Europe. In the contest between Habsburg and Valois, between the King of Spain and the Grand Duke of Tuscany, between the Scandinavian powers of Denmark and Sweden, between Catholics and Protestants, the part that Germany played would be decisive. Every government realized this and every one tried to establish an interest in that much-divided country. From Rome, Florence, Warsaw, Madrid, Lisbon, Paris, London, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Turin, Zurich, and Moscow, all eyes focused on the Empire.

The Protestant Reformation had caused widespread turmoil throughout Europe but nowhere were its effects more immediately felt than in Germany. It was there, after all, was where it began, when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Cathedral in Frankfurt. And, with a few exceptions, the German speaking lands coincided with the boundaries of the Holy Roman Empire. Since the ascension of Emperor Friedrich III in 1415, the House of Habsburg, the royal house of Austria, had ruled in an unbroken line making the elected position of Emperor de facto hereditary.


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Germany in 1570

Maximilian I, Emperor from 1525 to 1564, managed the rise of the new Christian faiths as admirably as could be expected given the conditions. Himself a devout Catholic, he nevertheless put the cause of German and imperial unity above the cause of religion. This earned him a fair share of critics, particularly when he allowed the Protestant Elector of Saxony, Prince-Elector Moritz I, to overrun Catholic Bavaria. However, in cases when the Protestants went too far, he was quick to strike. The best example was when the people of Mainz expelled the Archbishop in 1557 and attempted to claim the electorate for their new secular government. Maximilian ruthlessly crushed the rebels and then transferred the electorate to the more staunchly Catholic Archbishopric of Liege in 1559.

Maximilian's death in 1564 deprived the Empire of his fair and firm rule. His son and successor, Ludwig I, despite his passionate devotion to the cause of his religion, lacked the foresight and skill that gave his father a spark of greatness. The new head of the House of Habsburg was to prove himself unequal to the monumental task of ruling a multi-confessional empire.

The formal Catholic-Protestant split within the Empire began, innocently enough, as a matter of political division at the Diet of Magdeburg in 1560. That year, George I, Elector of Brandenburg, moved to unite the Protestant princes of the Empire to lobby Emperor Maximilian for the recognition of their faith and the right for their subjects to practice their religions within their own lands. The Protestants met at Magdeburg and formed the Evangelical Union, pledging their loyalty to the Emperor but lobbying for increased rights. Maximilian, looking to avoid the violence that plagued the years immediately following the Reformation and demonstrating a subtle diplomatic skill, organized a compromise. He refused to recognize any church but the Church of Rome as an official faith of the Empire. However, he pledged not to interfere with the private religious practices of the princes' subjects. Therefore, as a result of the deal, while Protestantism remained officially a heretic religion within the Empire, Maximilian's policy made it a de facto accepted faith. He formalized the compromise by issuing the Letter of Majesty in 1561, promising non-interference in the religious affairs of imperial subjects so long as they remained loyal and paid their religious taxes to the Catholic Church.

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George I von Hohenzollern, Prince-Elector of Brandenburg

Maximilian was a good Emperor, but he was not a great Emperor. He failed to provide a long term solution to Germany’s problems. The confessional divide was an issue he was acutely aware of, discussing it regularly with his advisors as well as with Ludwig. However, he died before any lasting peace could be reached. This left the future of Germany in limbo, not so much because of what was going on with the Catholic side, but because of what was happening on the Protestant side.

The political position of the Reformed faiths changed significantly in the years between the Diet of Magdeburg and the ascension of Ludwig to the imperial throne. A split developed among the Protestant princes. The Elector of Brandenburg, still the leading Protestant figure, headed the moderate pro-Imperial party. He was backed by Moritz of Saxony, Duke Jan Ernest I of Pomerania, and Prince-Elector Filips I of Utrecht as well as the members of the Hanseatic League. This party, boasting three of the Empire’s seven Electors as well as its greatest mercantile powers, presented a formidable bloc within the Evangelical Union.

However, he and his allies had to contend with the rise of a more radical party headed by the newly crowned Prince Karl I of Nassau. George of Brandenburg wanted to work with Emperor Ludwig to guarantee the continued survival of Protestantism within the Empire and expand the Letter of Majesty into a formal treaty. On the other hand, Karl of Nassau wanted to get rid of the Habsburgs altogether. The House of Nassau had long held lofty dynastic ambitions and the self-confident and brash prince hoped to take the imperial crown for himself. He had no backing at all for his imperial dreams. However, he did find allies in the cause of unseating the Habsburgs. His greatest support came from the Kingdom of Bohemia. The court at Prague was under the rule of a regency council for the boy king Premysl Otakar IV. Led by men like the treasurer Jindrich Falkensteina and the chief diplomat Josef Vaclav Thurn, the council represented the radical wing of Czech Protestantism. They harbored their own ambitions for imperial glory but, for the time being, were happy to let Karl of Nassau draw the ire of the Habsburgs.

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Prince Karl I of Nassau

If Ludwig had been a better Emperor and a better diplomat, he might have been able to side with George of Brandenburg and the moderate Protestants to preserve Germany and peace. However, his intransigence on the religious issue doomed Germany and the Empire to the abyss of war. Still, Ludwig was not the only one deserving of blame. He was pushed in the direction of war with the Protestants by Pope Innocent XI. Innocent's predecessor, Pope Alexander VI, like Maximilian, could be tough on the Reformed faiths when called for but also had the ability to compromise and see when diplomacy was needed. Not so his successor. Innocent looked to roll back the gains of the Reformation at every opportunity. The crushing by the Grand Duchy of Tuscany of a potential Protestant center in southern Italy emboldened the Holy Father and his advisors to make another attempt at taking Germany back for the Church. Accordingly, the Vatican made overtures to Emperor Ludwig to take a harsher stance toward the heretics. They found a willing partner. It was the ill luck of Europe that two tolerant and diplomatic leaders were replaced by men who both sought to stamp out the heretic faiths.

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Ludwig I von Habsburg, Holy Roman Emperor

The Emperor, with the backing of Pope Innocent, issued the Edict of Restitution in May of 1570. The Edict, a drastic and sweeping measure, repudiated the Letter of Majesty and declared that all land formerly owned by the Catholic Church within the boundaries of the Empire, even in Protestant areas, was to revert to Church ownership. The legal basis was the argument that Church land was awarded in perpetuity and, therefore, could not be alienated. The Edict came as a shock to the Protestant princes of the Evangelical Union. "All hope for compromise has evaporated," wrote Filips I, Elector of Utrecht, to George of Brandenburg, "now the radical followers of Bohemia and Nassau will take from us the mantle of leadership of the faith."

From there events moved quickly. The Kingdom of Bohemia and the Principality of Nassau began raising armies to "defend against the aggression of the Papists and their Emperor." Even worse, some of the moderate members of the Evangelical Union adopted a more militant approach. Moritz of Saxony declared the Edict of Restitution, “an act of war in all but name.” Jan Ernest of Pomerania signed a treaty of alliance with Bohemia. Then, Filips of Utrecht suddenly announced his conversion to Catholicism, thus opening the moderate faction within the Evangelical Union to charges of being “secret Catholics” by their radical colleagues. On the other side, Emperor Ludwig began dispatching agents to the Protestant principalities to begin poring over property records and identify which land was to be stripped from its current owners and given back to the Church.

Sensing a coming disaster, the Elector of Brandenburg called for a new Diet to discuss the issue and attempt to diffuse tensions. The King of Bohemia, now fourteen years old and only a few months from reaching majority, refused to meet with the Emperor while his agents were abroad and declared his intention to expel the ones destined for Prague by force. "Before I cede one acre of land to the whores of Rome and Vienna I will see Europe burn," thundered the boy king Premysl Otakar in the summer of 1570. Burn it would.

Still, in the hopes of salvaging peace, the Elector of Brandenburg and the Duke of Pomerania called for a meeting of the Protestant princes to discuss a course of action. Despite the bluster, the Emperor’s agents had made it to all of the Protestant capitals and begun their work. Their job was to dig through archival records to determine all the lands which had been expropriated from the Church. Even more galling to the Protestants, they were also authorized to levy rental fees, payable to Rome, upon those who occupied the lands.

Tensions were high but, as of yet, no war had broken out. Prince-Elector George I offered to hold the conference in Berlin. However, King Premysl Otakar declared that as he had already raised an army in defiance of the Emperor he did not feel safe leaving his own lands. He offered instead to hold the meeting in his own capital, Prague. Moritz of Saxony and Karl of Nassau declared that they preferred Prague as well. The Bohemian capital was in all ways a more grand and important city at that time than Berlin, and most of the Protestant princes agreed to it. With no way to sway the argument, and wanting to avoid holding up the meeting due to formalities, Brandenburg agreed.

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The Imperial political situation on the eve of the Assembly of Prague

The Protestant princes met in Prague starting on 20 January 1571. Duke Dietrich I of Oldenburg, a backer of the moderate Brandenburg faction, proposed to issue a declaration making any decisions reached by the meeting binding on all present. The well-intentioned but blundering Dietrich entered the proceedings assuming they would conclude with a declaration condemning the Edict of Restitution but proclaiming loyalty to the Emperor. Much to the chagrin and later misery of his fellow moderates, he underestimated the strength of the radical side. His proposal was instantly seconded by Saxony before anyone could object. Brandenburg and the Hanseatic League, led by Syndic Barnabas Grüne of Hamburg, resisted this notion. Unlike Dietrich of Oldenburg, they felt the momentum tipping toward the more extremist side and wanted to avoid being dragged into war. The Hanseatic League had strong economic interests in preventing war and remained George of Brandenburg’s staunchest backers to the end. The Elector of Saxony and the King of Bohemia retorted by declaring their loyalty to the Empire and proclaiming that they would never start a war of aggression against it. They followed up by questioning the loyalty of those few princes still in the moderate camp to the Evangelical Union and the Protestant faith. George of Brandenburg must have filled with rage at the questioning of his loyalty to the very league he had founded. Nevertheless, the combination of promises and accusations served to finally convince the holdouts to support the resolution making any agreement binding.

This was followed by several weeks of debate on the course ahead for the Protestants. Three main courses of action came to the forefront. The first, favored by Brandenburg and the Hansa, was to continue negotiations with the Emperor combined with economic pressure in order to avoid war. The second, favored by Baden, Pomerania, and most of the Free Cities, was to openly throw their support behind a new, non-Habsburg Emperor unless Ludwig agreed to return to the policies of toleration favored by his father and to immediately suspend the Edict of Restitution. The final course of action, the most radical and dangerous, was to overthrow Ludwig and declare a new Protestant Emperor in his place and to make Protestantism the official faith of the Empire. This policy, favored by the Prince of Nassau and the King of Bohemia, was quickly rejected out of hand by the rest of the Union.

The majority favored the second approach, to find a new, Catholic Emperor. Even at this late date, the idea of a Protestant Emperor was far too extreme for all but the most radical men in attendance. The King of Poland, August II, emerged as the leading candidate, followed by the recent Catholic convert Filips of Utrecht, and the Duke of Savoy Pietro III. Then, with what could not have been worse timing, Emperor Ludwig’s agents finally arrived in Prague, complete with an armed escort and bearing letters authorizing them to begin confiscating land and levying rent fees on Protestants who had occupied it. After a tense exchange at the city gates, the agents and their retinue were allowed in. Several of the Protestant princes were furious and made this known at the meeting. Most notably, this evented shifted Moritz of Saxony’s allegiance to the radical faction. While it was likely triggered by sincere outrage on behalf of his faith, the change of heart also represented a shrewd political move. It would make him the most powerful and influential German prince to embrace the idea of a Protestant Emperor. He easily trumped Karl of Nassau in power and prestige and as a German he was positioned to win favor among the other Electors as opposed to the Czech King of Bohemia.

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Moritz I von Rank, Prince-Elector of Saxony

As the powers maneuvered in the assembly hall, the agents were allowed to go about their business. They positioned themselves in the Chancellory where the property records were kept and began reviewing them. For several days they were left to their work unmolested.

Despite the machinations of the imperial electors and the high-level diplomacy, it was the estates of Bohemia who would launch Germany into war. The boy king was ambitious and malleable, a dangerous combination when surrounded by men like Falkensteina and Thurn who held significant sway over him. The youthful monarch did not stop to consider his long-term plans, he did not weigh the human costs of the path on which his advisors were leading him. Like any good high born boy trained in the martial virtues, he dreamed of glory and victory on the battlefield. It is no small wonder that Bohemia, led by men whose drive and deeply held faith combined to make them bitter enemies of the Habsburgs, would soon take command of the extremist wing of the Evangelical Union. The princes of Nassau and Saxony were as full of dynastic ambition as they were of Protestant zeal but they lacked the power and prestige of the boy king of Bohemia. Karl of Nassau was not an Elector and, lacking that most august title, his voice counted for less. Moritz of Saxony lacked the wealth and military might to lead the war against Vienna. With the hardliners in control in Prague, the stage was set for one of the most momentous and iconic events in European history.

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Jindrich Falkensteina, the Royal Treasurer of Bohemia, leader of Prague’s radical Protestant party, and King Premysl Otakar IV’s most trusted advisor

On 21 March 1570, two of the Catholic noblemen sent by Ludwig I arrived at the Bohemian Chancellory at 8:30 in the morning. About a half an hour later, members of the Protestant estates of Bohemia, arrived to challenge the legality of the Habsburg agents’ mission. The mob forced their way past the armed escorts and into the building. Wielding a copy of Emperor Maximilian’s Letter of Majesty, a Protestant army officer, Lord Frantisch Josef Mansfeld demanded that the Habsburg agents leave Prague immediately. The two men, Count Vilem Slavata of Chlum and Count Jaroslav Borzita of Martinice, were Czechs and angrily rebutted Mansfeld and his allies that this was their land as well. After more tense moments, the statesman and royal advisor Count Premysl Kolowrat arrived at the head of another group and read a letter aloud. It stated that, “His Imperial Majesty, by sending your graces, his agents, has declared all of our lives and honor already forfeit, thereby greatly frightening all three Protestant estates. As His Majesty and your graces intend to proceed with the execution against us, we came to a unanimous agreement among ourselves that, regardless of any loss of life and limb, honor and property, we would stand firm with all for one and one for all, nor would we be subservient to any authority besides God and His Majesty Premysl Otakar IV, King of Bohemia.”

The crowd then followed this up by demanding to know if the agents intended to violate the Letter of Majesty. The agents, now angered as well, admitted that the Letter of Majesty was no longer in effect, having been cancelled by Emperor Ludwig. Then, assuming they were only going to be arrested, welcomed any punishment the Protestants had planned.

Count Kolowrat then told Borzita and Slavata, “you are enemies of us and of our religion, have desired to deprive us of our Letter of Majesty, have horribly plagued your Protestant subjects, and have tried to force them to adopt your religion against their wills.” Then, turning to the Protestant crowd, he declared, “were we to keep these men alive, then we would lose the Letter of Majesty and our religion. For there can be no justice to be gained from or by them.”

Soon after, the two agents were defenestrated along with their secretary, Philipus Fabricius, but survived the 21 meter fall from the third floor. Catholic propagandists later claimed the men were saved by angels or by the intercession of the Virgin Mary, who caught them. On the Protestant side, pamphleteers asserted that they survived due to falling onto a dung heap. Somehow, they escaped with their lives.

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The Defenestration of Prague

It has never been confirmed whether or not the King of Bohemia himself had advanced knowledge of the Protestant estates’ actions. However, there can be no doubt that Falkensteina and Thurn knew about it. They took advantage of the situation masterfully. When the crowd reached the palace where the Protestant princes were meeting, they poured into the hall, cheering and chanting the princes’ names. King Premysl Otakar, sensing the emotions in the room and likely spurred on by Falkensteina, jumped up and made his famous declaration. “The people have spoken,” he boomed as the hall fell silent, “the Emperor has declared war on our faith. I, Premysl Otakar IV, will not stand for it. From this day, the House of Podebrad will stand for the Protestant faith against the House of Habsburg and their patron in Rome. Together, we will turn back the tide of the tyrant and establish our freedom.”
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Premysl Otakar IV Podebrad, King of Bohemia


The Czech crowd clamored for a vote for a declaration of war against the Emperor. Prince Karl declared his support for it. Moritz of Saxony remained silent. The overthrow of the Habsburgs had become his cause as well. However, unlike his enthusiastic counterpart from Nassau, the wily and experienced Elector saw the event for what it was: the takeover of the radical Protestant cause by Bohemia. Moritz joined the radical party out of ambitions to become Emperor, instead, he realized, he had been outmaneuvered by the Bohemians. Brandenburg and the Hansa urged calm and voted against declaring war but it did not matter. The tide of emotions carried the vote to an overwhelming majority. With the agreement to make the votes binding, they were now married to the war effort. Brandenburg, the Hanseatic League, and the other pro-peace princes reluctantly pledged their arms and wealth to the war effort. There was no turning back. George I, in calling the assembly, had gambled on being able to contain the ambitions of the radical Protestant party. He failed. Now, Germany was headed irrevocably to war.

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The declaration of war by the Evangelical Union against the House of Habsburg, 8 May 1571

As the storm clouds gathered over the Empire, the situation inevitably took an international perspective. However, the taking of sides by states outside Central Europe would prove itself to be quite odd. France, chief rival of the House of Habsburg, had supported the Protestant cause from nearly the beginning, concluding an alliance with the Elector of Brandenburg when he first emerged as the leader of the Protestant faction. The French treaded a dangerous line however. While their political realism gave them reason to meddle in the Empire's religious politics, they still opposed the more radical faction led by Bohemia, Nassau, and Saxony. They neither wanted to see the Empire broken up nor did they want to see it fall under Protestant control. King Louis XVI of France, who ascended the throne in 1567 after the death of his father, favored unseating the Habsburgs, his traditional dynastic enemies, in favor of a new Catholic Emperor. Now however he was faced with a stark choice: stand aside and let the Habsburgs strengthen their grip on the Empire or back the other side at the potential cost of a Protestant takeover. The declaration issued by King Enrique VI of Spain to back Austria made the choice easier. Still smarting from the recent loss of Navarre to Spain in 1567, the House of Valois could not pass up a chance at vengeance.

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Louis XVI de Valois, King of France

Poland, the greatest Catholic power of Eastern Europe had her own reasons for supporting the Evangelical Union. King August II had long supported a policy of tolerance within his kingdom and, as a result, won a great deal of goodwill among the Protestant princes of the Empire. He watched with interest as the Protestant princes bandied his name about as a potential replacement for Ludwig I. Now, with the Empire going to war, there was a distinct possibility for the Poniatowski Dynasty to snatch the imperial crown away from the Habsburgs. While the radical faction of the Protestants led the call for war, August II thought he could maneuver his way to the imperial throne through peace negotiations. Dreams of a massive superpower covering all of central and Eastern Europe danced in the heads of the leadership in Warsaw and, for the sake of imperial ambition, they prepared to throw in their lot with their historical enemy: Bohemia. In the end, the dynastic ambitions of the Catholic kings of France and Poland would shift the balance of power in the war decisively against their co-religionists.

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August II Poniatowski, King of Poland

The calculations of the non-Catholic allies of the Catholic League were more reactive. Simply put, England and Russia backed the Habsburgs because France and Poland, respectively, were against them. James I of England dreamed of recuperating his foothold on the continent. In Italy, the Duchy of Savoy backed the Evangelical Union because its rival, the Duchy of Milan, declared for the Catholic League.

And, finally, there was the Grand Duchy of Tuscany who sought, until the very last, to remain neutral in the conflict and to organize a peace. One of the great master strokes of Niccolò Machiavelli's foreign policy was to engineer an alliance with both France and Austria. The two great powers were bitter rivals yet through his skilled diplomacy, Machiavelli established a balance that had served the Republic of Florence and its successor the Grand Duchy of Tuscany marvelously. Maintaining both alliances remained a central pillar of Tuscan foreign policy and, for nearly eighty years, it had inexplicably worked. Now however, it looked as if Tuscany would finally have to choose a side.

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Emperor Ludwig I issued a call to arms to his ally Grand Duke Filippo I of Tuscany

The debate raged within the council of Grand Duke Filippo I. On one side was the faction led by his brother Francesco, the Prince of Elba, who favored entering the war on the side of Emperor Ludwig. Only seventeen years old, Francesco was already emerging as an ambitious and talented politician. He was backed by the Duke of Parma and Filippo’s top military advisor, Pietro Pierallini, fresh of the successful pacification of southern Italy. On the other side, was the peace party, led by the Grand Duke’s mother, the French-born Sophie Louise, as well as the Duke of Ferrara and the other prominent Protestants. The merchants of Tuscany also favored neutrality, seeing an opportunity for windfall profits in the event of a European war. The Defenestration of Prague and the militant actions taken by Bohemia, Saxony, and Nassau sealed the matter. They raised their banners first and, to Filippo, that meant that Tuscany would answer the call to arms issued by the Emperor, his cousin. Despite the pleas of Sophie Louise, the Grand Duke could not be shaken from his decision. While Tuscany had never formally joined the Catholic League, it was now tied inextricably to it.

Germany was over the precipice and all of Europe followed behind. The coming years were to see a devastating war rage across the continent, leaving no state of any significance outside its reach. Some doubtlessly suffered much more than others, none more so than Germany and its people. In the end, as the crowned heads of Europe played their games of strategy, it was the peasants and the burghers who suffered the effects. The emperors and kings and princes and dukes of Europe put their reputations and ambitions on the line surely, and in the cases where they led their armies personally, even their physical health and safety. However, it was always by choice. Never would they have to stand by helplessly and watch their homes and crops burned, their wives and daughters raped, their goods and livestock robbed with impunity, and their towns and villages destroyed and left desolate. That was the fate of the common men and women. With reckless disregard for the human cost of their endeavors, the Evangelical Union and the Habsburg led Catholic League plunged headfirst into war.
 
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As you will notice if you read Chapter 33, this last update takes a bit of a deviation in focus from the Florence-Tuscany perspective. The war of the religious leagues gave me a chance to look at the politics of the HRE and Germany and I wanted to go into that a bit especially on the heels of reading a lot about the Thirty Years' War (full disclosure I ripped off the first paragraph of the last update almost word for word from CV Wedgewood with just minor alterations). So, I hope you enjoy it and the next chapter, which will be about the war itself, will focus more on Tuscany and its actions in the conflict. I might throw in a historical vignette in between about the debates in Florence about whether or not to go to war, I haven't decided yet.
 
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