Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

The makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters online

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Venetians were subject to constant showers of arrows
from the Genoese fortifications, the two fleets, one of
them under the doge, the other under Pisani, seem to
have lost heart simultaneously. In the galleys under the
command of Contarini were many if not all the members
of the Senate, who had from the beginning shown the
feeblest heart; and meetings were held, and timorous
and terrified consultations, unworthy their name and
race, as to the possibility of throwing up the struggle
altogether, leaving Venice to her fate, and taking refuge
in Candia, or even Constantinople, where these terrified
statesmen, unused to the miseries of a winter campaign
on board ship, and the incessant watchings and fighting
in which they had to take their part, thought it might be
possible to begin again, as their fathers had done. While
these cowardly counsels were being whispered in each
others' ears, on one hand, on the other, the crews with
greater reason were on the verge of mutiny.

The galleys were so riddled with the arrows of the enemy that the
sailors in desperation cried with one voice that the siege must be relin-
quished, that otherwise all that were in the galleys round Chioggia were
dead men. Those also who held the banks, fearing that the squadrons
of Carrara would fall upon them from behind, demanded anxiously to be
liberated, and that the defense of the coast should be abandoned. Pisani
besought them to endure a little longer, since in a few days Carlo Zeno
must arrive, adding both men and ships to the armata, so that the
Genoese in their turn would lose heart. Equal desperation of mind was
in the other division of the fleet, where cold, hunger, and the deadly
showers of arrows which were continually directed against the galleys,
had so broken and worn out all spirit that soldiers and all who were on
board thought rather of flight than combat. The presence of the doge
somewhat sustained the multitude, and the exhortation he made, showing
them what shame and danger would arise to their country if they raised
the siege, since the Genoese, seeing them depart, would immediately
follow them to Venice. But neither by prayers nor by promises could
the spirits of the men be emboldened to continue the siege. And things
had come to such a pitch that, for two days, one after the other on either
side had determined to raise the siege, when Carlo Zeno, just in time,
with fourteen galleys fully equipped with provisions and men, about
noon, as if sent by God, entered the port of Chioggia.

Carlo turned the balance, and supplied at once the
stimulus needed to encourage these despairing squadrons,



unmanned by continual failure and by all the miseries of
sea and war; troubles to which the greater part were
unaccustomed, since in the failure of fighting men this
armada of despair had been filled up by unaccustomed
hands mostly artisans, says Sabellico whose discourage-
ment is more pardonable. Great was the joy of the
Venetians, continues the same authority, "when they
heard what Carlo had done; how he had sunk in the high
seas seventy ships of divers kinds belonging to the
enemy, and the great bark Bichignona, and taken three
hundred Genoese merchants, and three hundred thousand
ducats of booty, besides seamen and other prisoners."
The newcomer passed on to Pisani after he had cheered
the doge's squadron, and spread joy around, even the
contingent upon the coast taking heart; and another
arrival from Candia taking place almost at the same
moment, the Venetians found themselves in possession
of fifty-two galleys, many of them now manned with
veterans, and feared the enemy no more.

It is impossible to follow in detail the after incidents of
this famous siege. Carlo in concert with, and partial sub-
ordination to, Pisani, succeeded in blockading Chioggia so
completely that the enemy began to feel the same stress
of famine which they had inflicted upon the Venetians.
But the various attacks and assaults, the varying fortunes
of the besieged and besiegers, are too many to be recorded,
as the painstaking and leisurely chronicler does, event by
event. According to the biographer of Carlo, that heio
was never at a loss, but encountered every movement of
the Genoese, as they too began to get uneasy, and to
perceive that the circle round them was being drawn
closer and closer, with a more able movement on his side,
and met the casualties of storm and accident with the
same never-failing wit and wealth of resource. Accord-
ing to Bishop Jacopo, the entire work was accomplished
by his ancestor, though other writers give a certain credit
to the other commanders. But as soon as operations of
a really important and practical character had begun, a
new danger, specially characteristic of the age, arose on
the Venetian side. Bishop Jacopo Zeno would have us
believe that up to this time the Venetians had hired no
mercenaries, which is an evident mistake, since we have
already heard, even in this very conflict, of forces on


shore, a small and apparently faithful contingent, led by
a certain Giacomo Cavallo of Verona. But perhaps it
was the first time that a great armament had been col-
lected under the banner of San Marco. With that daring
of despair which is above calculation as to means of pay-
ment or support, the Senate had got together a force of
six thousand men a little army, which was to be con-
ducted by the famous English condottiere, Sir John
Hawkwood, Giovanni Aguto according to the Italian
version of his name. These soldiers assembled at Peles-
trina, an island in the mouth of the lagoons, not far
from Chioggia. But when the band was collected and
ready for action, the Senate, dismayed, found the leader
wanting. Whether the Genoese had any hand in this
defalcation, or whether the great condottiere was kept
back by other engagements, it is certain that at the last
moment he failed them; and the new levies, all unknown
and strange to each other, fierce fighting men from
every nationality, stranded on this island without a
captain, became an additional care instead of an aid to
the anxious masters of Venice. Fierce discussions arose
among them, una pcricolosa contesa, the Italians against
the French and Germans. In this emergency the Senate
turned to Carlo Zeno as their only hope. His youthful
experiences had made him familiar with the ways of these
fierce and dangerous auxiliaries, and he was considered
a better leader, Sabellico tells us, by land than by sea.
To him accordingly the charge of pacifying the mer-
cenaries was given. "Carlo, receiving this commission
to pass from the fleet to the camp, and from war at sea
to war on land," put on his armor, and quickly, with a
few companions, transferred himself to Pelestrina, where
he found everything in a deplorable condition:

It would be hard to tell the tumult which existed in the army, in
which there was nothing but attack and defense, with cries of blood and
vengeance, so that the uproar of men and weapons made both shore and
sky resound. Carlo announced his arrival by the sound of trumpets,
calling upon the soldiers to pause and listen to what their captain had to
say. His voice, as soon as it was heard, so stilled that commotion that
the storm seemed in a moment to turn into a calm ; and everyone, of
whatever grade, rushed to him exposing his grievances, and demanding,
one justice, the other revenge. There were many among them who had
served under him in other wars, and were familiar with him.


To these excited and threatening men he made a judi-
cious speech, appealing at once to their generosity and
their prudence; pointing out the embarrassed circum-
stances of the Senate, and the ingratitude of those who
received its pay yet added to its troubles; and finally
succeeded in making a truce until there was time to
inquire into all their grievances. When he had soothed
them for the moment into calm, he turned to the Senate
for the one sole means which his experience taught him
could keep these unruly bands in order. He had been
told, when his commission was given to him, that " it
appeared to these fathers [the Senate] that it was his
duty to serve the republic without pay," which was
scarcely an encouraging preliminary for a demand on
their finances. Carlo, however, did not hesitate. He
wrote to the Senate informing them of his temporary
success with the soldiery, and suggesting that, like medi-
cine in the hands of a doctor, money should be used to
heal this wound. To make the proposal less disagreeable
to the poverty-stricken state, he offered himself to under-
take the half of the burden, and to give five hundred
ducats to be divided among the soldiers, if the Senate
would do the same; to which the rulers of Venice partly
moved by the necessities of the case and partly by his
arguments, and that the republic might not seem less
liberal than a simple citizen consented, and peace was
accordingly established among the always exacting mer-
cenaries. Peace, however, lasted only for a time; and it
gives us a lively impression of the troubles of mediaeval
powers with these artificial armies, to trace the violent
scenes which were periodically going on behind all other
difficulties, from this cause.

When Carlo finally got his army in motion, and landed
them on the edge of the shore at Chioggia, he found
occasion almost immediately to strike a telling blow.
Understanding by the signals made that the enemy in-
tended to make a sally from two points at once from
Brondolo on one side, and from the city of Chioggia
on the other he at once arranged his order of battle;
placing the English, French, and Germans on the side
toward Chioggia, while the Italians faced the party com-
ing from Brondolo. It would seem from this that Carlo's
confidence in his own countrymen was greater than in the


strangers; for the sallying band from Chioggia had to
cross a bridge over a canal, and therefore lay under a
disadvantage of which he was prompt to avail himself.

The following scene has an interest, independent of
the quaint story, to the English reader:

When Carlo saw this [the necessity of crossing the bridge] he was
filled with great hope of a victory, but adding a number of the middle
division to the Italians, he himself joined the foreign band, and hav-
ing had experience of the courage and truth of the English captain,
whose name was William, called by his countrymen il Coquo [Cook ?
or Cock ?], he called him and consulted with him as to the tactics of
the enemy, and how they were to be met, and rinding that he was of
the same opinion, Carlo called the soldiers together [a parlamento\ and
addressed them thus.

Carlo's speeches, it must be allowed, are a little long-
winded. Probably the bishop, his grandson, with plenty
of leisure on his hands, did not reflect that it must have
been a dangerous and useless expedient to keep soldiers
a parlamento, however energetic the words were, when
the enemy was visibly beginning to get over the bridge
in face of them. We feel, when these orations occur,
something as spectators occasionally do at an opera,
when in defiance of common sense the conspirators pause
to roar forth a martial ditty at the moment when any
whisper might betray them, or the lovers perform an
elaborate duo when they ought to be running away with
all speed from the villain who is at their heels. Probably
the hero's speech was very much shorter than his descend-
ant makes it just long enough, let us suppose, with
William the Cock at his elbow, who would naturally have
no faith in speechifying at such a moment, to let the
Genoese get completely started upon that bridge which,
though assai largo, allowed the passage of but a small
number abreast. The enemy themselves came on gayly,
with the conviction that, taken thus between assailants
on two sides, Carlo would lose heart and fly and had
passed a number of their men over the bridge before the
Venetian army moved. Then suddenly Carlo flung his
forces upon them with a great shouting and sound of
trumpets. " The English were the first who with a rush
and with loud cries assailed the adversaries, followed by
the others with much readiness and noise " \romore\. The
Genoese, taken by surprise, resisted but faintly from the


first, and driven back upon the advancing files already on
the bridge, were disastrously and tragically defeated the
crowd, surging up in a mass, those who were coming con-
fused and arrested, those who were flying pushed on by
the pursuers behind, until with the unwonted weight the
bridge broke, and the whole fighting, flying mass was
plunged into the canal. The division which approached
from Brondolo was not more fortunate. On seeing the
rout of their companions they too broke and fled con
velocissimi corsi, as it seems to have been the universal
habit to do in the face of any great danger the fact that
discretion was the better part of valor being apparently
recognized by all, without any shame in putting the maxim
into practice. This victory would seem to have been
decisive. The tables were turned with a rapidity which
is strongly in contrast with the lingering character of all
military operations n this age. / Veneziani di vinti diven-
tarono vincitori, the vanquished becoming victors; and the
Genoese lost courage and hope all at once. The greater
part of them turned their eyes toward Padua as the near-
est place of salvation, and many fled by the marshes and
difficult tortuous water passages, in which they were
caught by the pursuing barks of the Venetians and those
Chioggiotes whom the invaders had driven from their
dwellings. Of thirteen thousand combatants who were
engaged in the zuffa here described, six thousand only,
we are told, found safety within the walls of Chioggia.
Bishop Jacopo improves the occasion with professional
gravity, yet national pride. "And certainly," he says,
"there could not have been a greater example of the
changeableness of human affairs than that those who a
little time before had conquered the fleets, overcome with
much slaughter all who opposed them, taken and occupied
th2 city, despised the conditions of peace offered to them,
and made all their arrangements for putting Venice to
sack, in full confidence of issuing forth in their galleys
and leading back their armies by the shore, proud of the
hosts whicli they possessed both by land and sea now
broken and spent, having lost all power and every help,
fled miserably, wandering by dead waters and muddy
marshes to seek out ferries and hiding places, nor even
in flight finding salvation. Such are the inconstancy
and changeableness of human things."


We cannot but sympathize with the profound satisfac-
tion of the bishop in thus pointing his not very original
moral by an event so entirely gratifying to his national

This sudden victory, however, as it proved, was, if
decisive, by no means complete; the Genoese who re-
mained still obstinately holding their own within the
shelter of their fortifications. It was in February that
the above recorded events occurred, and it was not till
June that Chioggia was finally taken; a delay to be
attributed, in great part at least, to the behavior of the
mercenaries. No sooner was the first flush of delight in
the unaccustomed triumph over, than the troops who had
done their duty so well again turned upon their masters.
On being ordered by sound of trumpet to put them-
selves in motion and establish their camp under the walls
of Chioggia, these soldiers of fortune bluntly refused.
The captains of the different bands sought Carlo in his
tent, where two Proveditori, sent by the Senate to con-
gratulate him, and to urge him to follow up his victory,
were still with him. Their message was a very practical
one. They rejoiced that their victory had been so help-
ful to the republic, which they regarded with great
reverence and affection, ready at all times to fight her
battles; but they thought that in the general joy the
Senate might very becomingly cheer the soldiers by a
present, qualche donativo something like double pay, for
example, for the month in which the victory had been
won. This would be very grateful and agreeable to all
ranks, the captains intimated, and whatever dangerous
work there might be to do afterward the authorities
should find them always ready to obey orders and bear
themselves valorously; but if not granted, not a step
would they make from the spot where they now stood.
To this claim there was nothing to be said but consent.
Once more Carlo had to use all his powers, con buone
parole di addolcire gli animi loro, for he was aware "by
long trial and practice of war that soldiers have hard
heads and obstinate spirits." He therefore addressed
himself once more to the republic, urging the prudence
of yielding this donativo lest worse should come of it,
adding, "that he, according to his custom, would con-
tribute something from his own means to lighten the


burden to the republic." Such scenes, ever recurring,
show how precarious was the hold of any authority over
these lawless bands, and what power to exact and to
harass was in their merciless hands.

Some time later, when the Genoese shut up in Chioggia
had been well-nigh driven to desperation, a rescuing fleet
of thirty galleys, laden with provisions and men, having
been driven off and every issue closed either by sea or land,
the mutinous free lances appear on the scene again this
time in the still more dangerous guise of traitors. " The
mercenaries were not at all desirous that the Genoese
should give themselves up, being aware that their occu-
pation and pay would be stopped by the conclusion of the
war." This fear led them to open negotiations with the
besieged, and to keep up their courage with false hopes,
the leaders of the conspirators promising so to act as
that they might have at least better conditions to sur-
render. A certain Robert of Recanati was at the head
of these unfaithful soldiers. Carlo, who seems to have
kept up a secret intelligence department such as was
highly necessary with such dubious servants, discovered
the conspiracy, and that there was an intention among
them of taking advantage of a parade of the troops for
certain mutinous manifestations. The wisdom and pa-
tience of the leader, anxious in all things for the success
of his enterprise and the safety of the republic, and
dealing with the utmost caution with the treacherous and
unreasoning men over whom he held uneasy sway, come
out conspicuously in these encounters. Carlo forbade
the parade, but finding that the mutineers pretended to
be unaware of its postponement, took advantage of their
appearance armed and in full battle array to remonstrate
and reason with them. While the men in general, over-
awed by their general's discovery of their conspiracy and
abashed by his dignified reproof, kept silence, Robert,
ferocious in his madness and hot blood, sprang to the
front, and facing Carlo, adroitly pressed once more the
ever-repeated exactions. " We come to you armed and
in order of battle," he said, "as you see, to demand
double pay till the end of the war. We are determined
to have it, and have sworn, by whatsoever means, to
obtain it; and, if it is denied to us, we warn you that, with
banners flying, and armed as you see us, we will go over


to Chioggia to the enemy." The much-tried general was
greatly disturbed by this defiance, but had no resource
save to yield.

Believing it to be better to moderate with prudence the impetuosity
of this hot blood, without showing any alarm, with cheerful countenance
and soft words Carlo replied that nothing would induce him to believe
that these words were spoken in earnest, knowing the good faith and
generosity of the speaker's mind, and believing that they were said only
to try him ; that he had good reason for believing this, since otherwise
Robert would have committed a great villainy and introduced the worst
example, such as it was impossible a man of his high reputation could
intend to do. Nor could the Senate ever believe it of him, having
always expected and thought most highly of him and rewarded him
largely, according to the faith they had in his trustworthiness and experi-
ence in the art of war ; for nothing rendered soldiers more dear to the
republic than that good faith which procured them from the said republic
and other princes great gifts and donations. If soldiers were indifferent
to the failure and violation of this faith, who could confide to their care
the safety of the state, of the women and children ? Therefore he
adjured them to lay down their arms, and he would watch over their
interests and intercede for them with the Senate. While Carlo thus
mildly addressed them the multitude renewed their uproar, opposing him
furiously and repeating the cry of double pay, which they demanded at
the top of their voices, and certain standard-bearers posted among them
raised their banners, crying out that those who were of that opinion
should follow them ; to whom Carlo turned smiling, and declared " That
he also was on that side, and promised, if they were not contented, to fight
under their ensigns."

While this struggle was still going on, the general,
with a smile on his lips but speechless anxiety in his
heart, facing the excited crowd which any touch might
precipitate into open mutiny beyond his control, a sudden
diversion occurred which gave an unhoped-for termina-
tion to the scene. The manner in which Carlo seized
the occasion, his boldness, promptitude, and rapid com-
prehension of an occurrence which might under less
skillful guidance have turned the balance in the opposite
direction, show how well he deserved his reputation.
The Genoese, who had been warned by secret emissaries
that on this day the mercenaries intended some effort in
their favor, and probably perceiving from their battle-
ments that something unusual was going on in the camp,
seized the moment to make a desperate attempt at escape.
They had prepared about eighty small vessels, such as
were used to navigate the passages among the marshes,
and filled them with everything of value they possessed


in preparation for such an occasion. The propitious
moment seeming now to present itself, they embarked
hastily, and pushing out into the surrounding waters,
seeking the narrowest and least-known passages, stole
forth from the beleaguered city. " But vain," cries the
pious bishop, "are the designs of miserable man!"

The boatmen whose attention was fixed upon every movement
within the walls had already divined what was going on, and with
delight perceiving them issue forth, immediately gave chase in their
light barks, giving warning of the escape of the enemy with shouting and
a great uproar. And already the cry rose all around, and the struggle
between the fugitives and their pursuers had begun, when Carlo, fired
by the noise and clash of arms, suddenly turned upon the soldiers, and
with stern face and terrible eyes addressed them in another tone.
" What madness is this," he cried, " cowards, that keeps you standing
still while the enemy pushes forth before your eyes laden with gold and
silver and precious things, while you stand and look on, chattering like
children ! " Upon which he ordered the banners to move on, and with
a great voice, so that the whole army could hear him, commanding all
who kept faith with the republic to follow him against the enemy.
Without loss of time, with his flag carried before him, he among the
first rushed to the marshes, plunging breast-high in the water and mud,
and his voice and the impetuosity with which he called them to their
senses and rushed forth in their front had so great a power that the whole
army, forgetting their complaint, followed their captain, flinging them-
selves upon the enemy, and thus, with little truble, almost all fell into
Carlo's hands. The booty thus obtained was so great that never had
there been greater, nor was anything left that could increase the victory
and the fury until night fell upon the work. In this way and by this
means was an end made of the controversy of that day.

This accidental settlement however was only for the
moment. Robert of Recanati was not to be so easily
driven from his purpose. The remnant of the imprisoned
and discouraged Genoese, greatly diminished by these
successive defeats and now at the last point of starvation,

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 16 of 35)