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The Lords of Montefeltro.
taigne, who saw the place during his travels, towards the close of the sixteenth century, it had singularly fallen off from its old reputation, only one petty garden surviving. These lords of Montefeltro, who had been made counts of the fief by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, were for some time Ghibellines, or adherents of the emperors, as distinguished from Guelfs, or pope's men; but Urbino is not far from Rome, and it suited the family to go over to his Holiness, who, in reward for their services, invested them as counts of the district, and finally as its dukes. By degrees, either as purchasers, conquerors, or deliverers, the warlike race acquired lordship in the neighbouring districts: a pope gave them more, with one of his kinsmen for a son-in-law; and the Duchy of Urbino finally swelled into an area forty miles long, and as many broad, partly consisting of rugged Apennines embosoming rich valleys, and partly of a line of coast on the Adriatic Sea. The region nearly corresponds with the modern legation of Urbino and Pesaro, that is to say, with one of the unhappy States of the Papal Church; for, on the last duke's becoming as childless as he was weak, it pleased his friend the Pope, vicar of one whose kingdom is not of this world,' to take the crown of it to himself, and so subject it to the same ecclesiastical misgovernment as the rest of central Italy,
In proceeding to make the reader acquainted with these successive Dukes of Urbino, after the particulars afforded us by Mr. Dennistoun, we shall first, in order to complete the intimacy, by showing in what sort of age they originated, extract a passage or two from his volumes equally illustrative and comprehensive. One is from a recent Italian writer, who makes us feel, in a very striking manner, the whole spirit of the old Italian struggles. From the second, which is by the author's own pen, we receive an equally forcible impression of the strange part that was taken in those struggles by the celebrated Condottieri, or mercenary leaders, national and foreign.
The feeble and unquiet domination of the early princes of Italy (observes Mr. Dennistoun's author) was obtained some' times by usurpation from rivals, from the people, or from the • Church; sometimes by authority wrested originally from pope or emperor, and subsequently sanctioned; which was wielded now with more, now with less rigour. But these princes were, all of them, encompassed by a numerous following; were de'voted to the profession of mercenary war; and were at once the ‘abettors and dreaders of rebellions, ambushes, and poisonings.' (This word all,' as we shall see, is not to be taken to the letter; but the spirit of the truth is in it.) Various were the vicissi
tudes of these chiefs. In order to oust a competitor, they would offer large concessions to the Church or the populace; and
. having attained a sovereignty, would gradually curtail them
until the community called in another master, to be in like manner supplanted by a third. In other cases they compro
mised their disputes by partitioning cities or principalities • Frequently the pontiff would favour one faction in order to
down another, and to profit by their mutual strife. Again, he would elevate a third over them both, under cloak of free
dom. It was, in short, constant wavering between abuses and • concession, tyranny and license; the seigneur intent upon • extending his influence, although by dishonest means; the * people prompt to diminish it, even to anarchy.' (Vol. i. p. 82.)
• This description,' observes Mr. Dennistoun, "might be fitly • applied to the Montefeltrian holdings under most of their early
Counts.' It may be added, that thus grew the dominations of the Visconti and the Sforzas in Milan, of the Gonzagas in Mantua, of the Estes in Ferrara, of the Bentivoglios in Bologna, the Malatestas in Rimini, &c., and not only those, but the dominations of the republics over one another and over their own citizens; of Florence and Venice over their neighbours; of the Medici over Florence; of the King of Arragon over Naples; and of Popes and Emperors over all. For republics were as ambitious as principalities: equality was better understood than liberty, as it still is in some republics: Popes had no decency, and Emperors could not be expected to have what Popes derided.
But the most curious feature in the struggle remains to be noticed. Condottieri (conductors, a very different title upon highways at present) are personages well known to all who have journeyed in Italian history. Less political readers will have met with them in the pages of Mrs. Radcliffe. Our countrywoman has invested them, in her · Mysteries of Udolpho, with a curious minor interest, between the terrible and the shabby, which is as different from that of the real people as a gaming-table is from a field of battle. Her chief, Montoni, was christened after one of the veritable brotherhood; but if she had known as much of real castles and Apennines as she did of old houses in the abstract, and of frightened young ladies, she never would have confounded her swindling fortunehunters with the great military adventurers, cheats though they were, who became the terror of the Middle Ages, and the arbiters of power.
The condottieri originated in the imperial descents on Italy, and in the wars of the French and English. They were acceptable to the agricultural and commercial populations of Italy as substitutes for military service; excited the imitation of native
The Condottiere System.
commanders; and, by tacit consent of one another, ended in reducing war to a trading speculation under the best bidder ;-a business of stratagems, and ransoms, and exactions; bloodless, and a mere matter of profit, if it could be so contrived; ferocious on occasion; unprincipled always. There was the German Werner, who styled himself the enemy of God;' Hawkwood the Englishman, son of a tanner, whose name received thirteen versions from the despairing tongues of the Italians; Sforza, who is said to have been a wood-cutter; his son, who became Duke of Milan; Braccio da Montone, a feudal lord; a Frenchman (we forget his name), one of the greatest; Piccinino (Little One), a terrible fellow; Giovanni de Medici, called the Great Devil; the Malatestas, lords of Rimini; and, as the custom grew into repute, the Montefeltri themselves. For this hireling system easily became ennobled by princes who had already practised it under the name of allies and vassals; they gladly studied the art of war under its leaders; and the retaining salaries which were given them in large annual sums by the princes next in rank above them and by money-getting republics
, ultimately grew into commanderships under greater powers, who thus enriched their poverty, secured their adhesion, and employed the restless portion of their subjects. The first princes, then styled counts, of Urbino, began their career under the most brutal phase of this system. The last duke had thirteen thousand men at the disposal of the King of Spain.
* Any bold baron or experienced captain,' says Mr. Dennistoun, 'having formed round his banner a corps of tried and daring spirits, leased their services and his own for a stipulated term and price. Their whole arrangements being avowedly mercenary, they had no patriotism, no preference for standards or watchwords. The highest offer secured them; and when their engagement expired, or their pay fell into arrear, they were free to pass over to the enemy, or seek any other master. But besides their fixed stipend, they had perquisites from the hazards of war; the ransom of rich prisoners accrued to the leaders, while the soldiery were glutted by the occasional booty of a sacked city.
• The changes occasioned by this system influenced Italy in its military, political, and social relations. Formerly, a truce disarmed the combatants, and sent them to forget their discipline in their domestic duties. Now, one campaign followed another, teaching the same free companies new evolutions and more perfect lessons in martial science; or if a piping-time of general peace ever arrived, their leaders scrupled not to keep them in practice by a private adventure of pillage against some feeble victim, until they should be required for the fresh contests which a few months were sure to develope. Their armour, accoutrements, and drill, thus became more complicated ; men-at-arms and lances were considered the only effecVOL. XCIV. NO. CXCII.
tive troops. But their efficiency was counteracted by another result of stipendiary warfare. Exempt from enthusiasm in any cause, their tactics became a money question. To close a campaign by a series of brilliant successes was to kill the goose that gave them golden eggs; to carry havock into the adverse ranks was damaging to those who might be their next pay-masters or comrades. Sanguinary conflicts brought them danger without advantage, whilst the capture of an opponent or a camp ensured for them a rich prize. War was, in fact, a game which they were paid to play, with no interest in the stakes beyond their individual opportunities of plunder. Equally indifferent to past victories or future fame, they cared little for beating the enemy, could they but reach his baggage-waggons, or temporize until he could buy them off. Battles, thus deprived of their dangers and stirring interests, became great prize-fights, in which the victors deserved no sympathy, and the conquered required no commiseration. Gain was substituted for glory, languor for gallantry, calculation for courage. Patriotism slumbered; honesty of purpose and energy of action, fell into disuse; the parties in the match, careless of victory, manæuvred only for stale-mate. Hence the political results of Italian campaigns were inconsiderable, compared with the forces in the field, the time consumed, and the resources expended. Impoverished States were left without defenders, and even wealthy belligerents were liable to a sudden and immediate desertion by their hireling bands. Still more fatal were the moral effects upon the people. The feudal system rendered every occupier of the soil a soldier, ready to stand by his king and country; and it transmitted to more peaceful times “a bold
peasantry, their country's pride,” and best defenders. But it was otherwise with the brave spirits of the Ausonian commonwealth. They were bound to the banner of some privileged bandit, who served the best bidder, whilst the mass of the community became indifferent to a native land, for which they were never called upon to hazard life or limb. The stipendiaries fought for or against freedom, faith, country, and comrades; the citizens endured their outrages or purchased their mercy. In the end, the military were brutalised, whilst the civilians became enervated. The former were made venal, the latter cowardly. The master-mind of Machiavelli, after the French invasion of 1592–9, saw these mischiefs, and would have remedied them by his plan for a civil militia ; but it was too late, and the degeneracy engrafted upon the national character of Italy by the condottière system still cankers it to the core.' (Vol. i. p. 12.)
Who is to wonder that during the earliest days of this system Italy should have been afflicted with some of the worst of its petty tyrants ? On the other hand, who is not to wonder, and to feel tenfold admiration, at princes who could be bred up in it, and yet become fathers of their people? For such, in one instance at least, we shall see to have been the case. A noble nature, it is true, becomes shocked by examples which would debase
a common one. A son with a great mind, in spite of his wrong training, shall go counter to the habits of an evil father,
But the greatness itself is not the less observable and delightful.
The attainment of their highest rank by the Montefeltri was rendered ominous by the crimes and catastrophe of its possessor, who, if history says true, was a youthful monster. His name, which to an English ear sounds like a burlesque, and an apology for eccentricity, was Oddantonio (a compound of Antonio and Oddo, or Otho). This first Duke of Urbino, whose rank was given him by the Pope by way of soothing a refusal to a great vassal
, appears to have crammed into the small space of his existence the lives of some dozen scoundrels. He was probably out of his wits. He had come prematurely to a great inheritance, and his faculties were perhaps overborne by the prosperity. His history carries us at one step into the midst of the splendours, the luxuries, and the horrors, which the imagination connects with the deepest Italian romance. Oddantonio succeeded at fifteen to his father's princely domains. Two years afterwards he is made Duke by the Pope, amidst the pomps of chivalry and religion. Meantime he riots in orgies of the most hideous description, becomes hated by all the husbands within distance, and commits a dreadful murder. In the summer of his seventeenth year, just before his own marriage, he attended the nuptials of his betrothed's brother, among festivals and pageants, and the slaughter of boars and bullocks; and three months afterwards he perished in a conspiracy on the part of those whom he had injured, and his body was loaded with indignities. The murder which he committed is related as follows, on the testimony of the Pope who crowned him :- He made
one of his pages, who had neglected to provide lights at the 'proper hour, be enveloped in sear-cloth, coated with com'bustibles, and then, setting fire to his head, left him to the 'horrors of a lingering agony.' (Vol. i. p. 50.)
The bare possibility of the truth of such a story is something appalling to humanity; yet who that has read the histories of tyrants and inquisitors shall say that it is impossible? When the will is suffered to grow enormous, it must have enormous satisfactions.
Next the dark night,' says the poet, comes the glad morrow.' The first and worst Duke of Urbino was succeeded by the best; and, as his reign was longer and happier, we shall dilate upon it accordingly. His name was Federigo. Since the publication of Mr. Dennistoun's book, it is a name which will be known a great deal more than it was, and should become a favourite with posterity. Federigo was an elder brother of Oddantonio, born out of wedlock; a circumstance which, in those days of