Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

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

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that nothing called for his presence, and returned to
Venice. The colleague, to whom Bishop Jacopo gives
no name, among his other labors, took upon him to
examine the expenditure of the city for many years back,
and there found a certain strange entry : "To Carlo Zeno,
paid four hundred ducats." No doubt it was one of the
highest exercises of Christian charity on the part of the
bishop to keep back this busybody's name. With all
haste the register was sent to Venice to be placed before
the terrible Ten. "The Ten," says Jacopo, "held in
the city of Venice the supreme magistracy, with power
to punish whomsoever they pleased; and from their
sentence there is never any appeal permitted for any
reason whatever, and all that they determine is final,
nor can it be known of anyone whether what they do is
according to reason or not." Called before this tribunal
Carlo gave the simple explanation with which the reader
has been already furnished. But before that secret
tribunal, his honor, his stainless word, his labors for his
country, availed him nothing. Perhaps the men whose
hands had strangled Francesco da Carrara and his son in
their prison, still thrilling with the horror of that deed,
felt a secret pleasure in branding the hero of Chioggia,
the deliverer of Venice, her constant defender and guard,
as a traitor and miserable stipendiary in foreign pay.
The penalty for this crime was the loss of all public place
and rank as senator or magistrate, and two years of prison.
And to this Carlo Zeno was sentenced as a fitting end to
his long and splendid career.

It is unnecessary to tell, though our bishop does
it with fine, suppressed indignation, how the people,
thunderstruck by such an outrage, both in Venice itself
and in the other surrounding cities, would have risen
against it :

But Carlo [he adds], with marvelous moderation of mind and
with a strong and constant soul, supported the stroke of envious fortune
without uttering a complaint or showing a sign of anxiety ; saying solely
that he knew the course of human things to be unstable, and that this
which had happened to him was nothing new or unknown, since he had
long been acquainted with the common fate of men, and how vain was
their wisdom, or how little value their honors and dignities, of which he
now gave to all a powerful example.

But Venice is not alone in thus rewarding her greatest


Bishop Jacopo does not say in so many words that
Carlo fulfilled his sentence and passed two years in
prison; so we may hope that even the Ten, with all their
daring, did not venture to execute the sentence they had
pronounced. All we are told is that "as soon as he was
free to go where he pleased " he made a pilgrimage to
Jerusalem, turning his soul to religion and sacred things.
Here a curious incident is recorded, to which it is difficult
to say what faith should be given. In the Holy City
Carlo, according to his biographer, met and formed a
warm friendship with a Scotch prince, " Pietro, son of
the King of Scotland," who insisted, out of the love and
honor he bore him, on knighting the aged Venetian.
We know of no Prince Peter in Scottish history, but he
might have been one of the many sons of Robert II., the
first Stewart king. The rank of knight, so prized among
the Northern races, seems to have been, like other grades,
little known among the Venetians, the great distinction
between the noble and the plebeian being the only one
existing. To be made a knight in peaceful old age, after
a warlike career, is a whimsical incident in Carlo's life.

But though he was old, and a peaceful pilgrim on a
religious journey, his hand had not forgotten its cunning
in affairs of war; and on his way home he lent his powerful
aid to the King of Cyprus, and once more, no doubt with
much satisfaction to himself, beat the Genoese and saved
the island. Returning home the old man, somewhere
between seventy and eighty, married for the third time,
but very reasonably, a lady of a noble Istrian family, of
an age not unsuitable to his own, " for no other reason
than to secure good domestic government, and a consort
and companion who would take upon herself all internal
cares, and leave him free to study philosophy and the
sacred writings." Let us hope that the old couple were
happy, and that the lady was satisfied with the position
assigned her. Having thus provided for the due regula-
tion of all his affairs, the old warrior gave himself up to
the enjoyment of his evening of leisure. He made friends
with all the doctors and learned men of his day, a list of
names eruditissimi in their time, but, alas ! altogether
passed from human recollection; and his house became
a second court, a center of intellectual life in Venice as
well as the constant haunt of honest statesmen and good


citizens seeking his advice on public questions and mate-
rial difficulties as they arose. As for Carlo, he loved
nothing so much as to spend his time in reading and
writing, and every day, when he was able, heard Mass in
San Stefano, "nor ever went out," adds the bishop with
satisfaction, "that he did not go to church or some other
religious place." "In the cold winter \nelV orrida e
gelida invernata\ he had his bed filled with books, so that
when he had slept sufficiently he could sit up in bed and
pass the rest of the night in reading, nor would he put
down his book save for some great necessity." One
wonders what books the noble old seaman had to read.
Scholastic treatises on dry points of mediaeval philosophy,
hair-splitting theological arguments most probably. Let
us hope that there blossomed between some saintly
legends, some chronicle newly written of the great story
of Venice, perhaps some sonnet of Petrarch's, whom
Carlo in his early manhood must have met on the Piazza,
or seen looking out from the windows on the Riva or,
perhaps, even some portion of the great work of Dante
the Florentine. He forgot himself and the troubles of
his old age among his books; but before he had reached
the profounder quiet of the grave Carlo had still great
sorrows to bear. The worthy wife who took the cares
of his household from him grew ill and died, to his great
grief; and a pang still greater Jacopo, his youngest
son, the father of the bishop, died, too, in the flower of
his manhood, at thirty, leaving the old father desolate.
Another son, Pietro, survived, and was a good seaman
and commander; but it was upon Jacopo that the father's
heart was set. At last, in 1418, at the age of eighty-four,
in this point, too, following the best traditions of
Venice, Carlo Zeno died, full of honors and of sorrows.
He was buried with all imaginable pomp, the entire city
joining the funeral procession. One last affecting inci-
dent is recorded in proof of the honor in which his
countrymen and his profession held the aged hero. The
religious orders claimed, as was usual, the right of carry-
ing him to his grave; but against this the seafaring
population, quasi tutti i Veneziani allevati sul mare, arose
as one man, and hastening to the doge claimed the right
of bearing to his last rest the commander who had loved
them so well. Their prayer was granted; and with all


the ecclesiastical splendors in front of them, and all the
pomp of the State behind, the seamen of Venice, * Vene-
ziani sperimentati nelle cose maritime, carried him to his
grave; each relay watching jealously that every man
might have his turn. This band of seamen, great and
small, forming the center of the celebration, makes
a fatting conclusion to the career of the great captain,
who had so often swept the seas, the alto mare, of every
flag hostile to his city.

But in modern Venice the tomb of Carlo Zeno is
known no more. He was buried "in the celebrated
church called La Celestia," attached to a convent of
Cistericans, but long ago destroyed. Its site and what
unknown fragments may remain of its original fabric now
form part of the Arsenal, and there perhaps under some
forgotten stone lie the bones of the great admiral, the
scourge of Genoa not, after all, an inappropriate spot.



THE history of Venice opens into a totally new chapter
when the great republic, somewhat humbled and driven
back by the victorious Turk from her possessions beyond
sea, and maintaining with difficulty her broken suprem-
acy as a maritime power, begins to turn her eyes to-
ward the green and fat terra firma those low-lying plains
that supplied her with bread and beeves, which it was so
natural to wish for, but so uneasy to hold. The sugges-
tion that her enemies, if united, could cut her off at any
time from her supplies, so nearly accomplished in the
struggle for Chioggia, was a most plausible and indeed
reasonable ground for acquiring, if possible, the com-
mand in her own hands of the rich Lombardy pastures
and fields of grain. And when the inhabitants of certain
threatened cities hastily threw themselves on her protec-
tion in order to escape their assailants, her acceptance
was instantaneous, and it would seem to have been with
an impulse of delight that she felt her foot upon the
mainland, and saw the possibility within her power of
establishing a firm standing, perhaps acquiring a per-
'manent empire there. It would be hopeless to enter into
the confused and endless politics of Guelf and Ghibel-
line, which threw a sort of veil over the fact that every
man was in reality for his own hand, and that to establish
himself or his leader in the sovereignty of a wealthy city,
by help of either one faction or the other, or in the name
of a faction, or on any other pretext that might be
handy, was the real purpose of the captains who cut and
carved Lombardy, and of the reigning families who had
already established themselves upon the ashes of defunct
republics or subdued municipalities. But of this there
was no possibility in Venice. No Whites and Blacks
ever struggled in the canals. The only rebellions that
touched her were those made by men or parties endeav-


oring to get a share of the power which by this time
had been gathered tightly, beyond all possibility of mov-
ing, in patrician hands. Neither the Pope nor the em-
peror was ever the watchword of a party in the supreme
and independent city, which dealt on equal terms with

There was no reason, however, why Venice should not
take advantage of these endless contentions; and there
was one existing in full force which helped to make the
wars of the mainland more easy to the rich Venetians
than war had ever been before. All their previous ex-
peditions of conquest, which had been neither few nor
small, were at the cost of the blood as well as the wealth
of Venice ; had carried off the best and bravest ; and even,
as in the romantic story of the Giustiniani, swept whole
families away. But this was no longer the case when she
strode upon terra firma with an alien general at her elbow,
and mercenary soldiers at her back. Though they might
not turn out very satisfactory in the long run, no doubt
there must have been a certain gratification in hiring, so
to speak, a ready-made army, and punishing one's enemy
and doubling one's possessions without so much as a
scratch on one's own person or the loss even of a retainer.
The condottieri, conductors, leaders, captains of the wild
spirits that were to be found all over the world in that
age of strife and warfare, were, if not the special creation
of, at least most specially adapted for the necessities of
those rich towns, always tempting to the ambitious,
always by their very nature exposed to assault, and at
once too busy and too luxurious at this advanced stage
of their history to do their fighting themselves which
divided Italy among them, and which were each other's
rivals, competitors, and enemies, to the sad hindrance of
all national life, but to the growth, by every stimulus of
competition, of arts and industries and ways of getting
rich in which methods each endeavored with the zeal
of personal conflict to outdo the rest. The rights, the
liberties and independence of those cities were always
more or less at the mercy of any adventurous neighbor-
ing prince who had collected forces enough to assail
them, or of the stronger among their own fellows. We
must here add that between the horrors of the first mer-
cenaries, the Grande Compagnia, which carried fire and


sword through Italy, and made Petrarch's blood run cold,
and even the endless turbulence and treachery of the men
whom Carlo Zeno had so much ado to master, and the
now fully organized and reorganized armies, under their
own often famous and sometimes honorable leaders, there
was a great difference. The free lances had become a
sort of lawful institution, appropriate and adapted to the
necessities of the time.

The profession of soldier of fortune is not one which
commends itself to us nowadays; and yet there was noth-
ing necessarily in it dishonorable to the generals who
carried on their game of warfare at the expense of the
quarrelsome races which employed them, but at wonder-
fully little cost of human life. No great principle lay in
the question whether Duke Philip of Milan or the republic
of Venice should be master of Cremona. One of them,
if they wished it, was bound to have the lesser city; and
what did it matter to a general who was a Savoyard, com-
ing down to those rich plains to make his fortune, which
of these wealthy paymasters he should take service
under? His trade was perhaps as honest as that of the
trader who buys in the cheapest market and sells in the
dearest all the world over. He obeyed the same law of
supply and demand. He acted on the same lively sense
of his own interests. If he transferred himself in the
midst of the war from one side to the other there was
nothing very remarkable in it, since neither of the sides
was his side; and it was a flourishing trade. One of its
chief dangers was the unlucky accident that occurred
now and then, when a general, who failed of being suc-
cessful, had his head taken off by the Signoria or Seigneur
in whose employment he was, probably on pretense of
treason. But fighting of itself was not dangerous, at
least to the troops engaged, and spoils were plentiful and
the life a merry one. Italy, always so rich in the bounties
of nature, had never been so rich as in these days, and the
troops had a succession of villages always at their com-
mand, with the larger morsel of a rich town to sack now
and then, prisoners to ransom, and all the other chances
of war. Their battles were rather exercises of skill than
encounters of personal opponents, and it was not unusual
to achieve a great feat of arms without shedding a drop
of biood. The bloodshed was among the non-com-


batants the villagers, the harmless townsfolk who were
mad enough to resist them and not among the fighting

Such was the profession, when a wandering Savoyard
trooper perhaps come home with his spoils in filial
piety, or to make glad the heart of a rustic love with
trinkets dragged from the ears or pulled bloody from the
throat of some Lombard maiden took note among the
fields of a keen-eyed boy, who carried his shaggy locks
with such an ariafiera, so proud an air, that the soldier
saw something beyond the common recruit in this young
shepherd lad. Romance, like nature, is pretty much the
same in all regions; and young Francesco, the peasant's
son, under the big frontier tower of Carmagnola, makes
us think with a smile of young Norval "on the Grampian
Hills " that noble young hero whose history has unfortu-
nately fallen into derision. But in those distant days,
when the fifteenth century had just begun, and through
all the Continent there was nothing heard but the clatter
of mail and the tread of the war-horse, there was nothing
ridiculous in the idea that the boy, hearing of battles,
should long ''to follow to the field some warlike lord,"
or should leave the sheep to shift for themselves, and go
off with the bold companion who had such stories of siege
and fight to tell. He appears to have entered at once the
service of Facino Cane, one of the greatest generals of
the time, under whom he rose, while still quite young,
to some distinction. Such, at least, would seem to have
been the case, since one of the first notices in the history
of the young Piedmontese is the record in one of the old
chronicles of a question put to Facino Why did he not
promote him? To which the great condottiere replied
that he could not do so the rustic arrogance of Fran-
ceso being such that, if he got one step, he would never
be satisfied till he was chief of all. For this reason,
though his military genius was allowed full scope, he was
kept in as much subjection as possible, and had but ten
lances under him, and small honor, as far as could be
seen; yet was noted of the captains as a man born to be
something beyond the ordinary level when his day should

The Italian world was, as usual, in a state of great
disturbance in these days. Giovanni or Gian Galeazzo,


the Duke of Milan, in his time as masterful an invader as
any, had died, leaving two sons the one who succeeded
him, Gian Maria, being a feeble and vicious youth, of
whose folly and weakness the usual advantages were soon
taken. When the young duke was found to be unable to
restrain them, the cities of Lombardy sprang with won-
derful unanimity each into a revolution of its own. The
generals who on occasion had served the house of Visconti
faithfully enough, found now the opportunity to which
these free lances were always looking forward, and estab-
lished themselves, each with hopes of founding a new
dukedom, and little independent dominion of his own, in
the revolted cities. Piacenza, Parma, Cremona, Lodi, all
found thus a new sovereign, with an army to back him.
The duke's younger brother, Filippo Maria, had been
left by his father in procession of the town of Pavia, a
younger son's inheritance; but Facino Cane made light
of this previous settlement, and in the new position of
affairs, with the house of Visconti visibly going downhill,
took possession of the city, retaining young Philip as half
guest, half prisoner. When matters were in this woeful
state the duke was assassinated in Milan, and by his
death the young captive in Pavia became the head of
the house to little purpose, however, had things
remained as they were. But on the very same day
Facino died in Pavia, and immediately all the prospects
of Philip were altered. There was evidently no one to
take the place of the dead soldier. The troops who had
brought him to that eminence, and the wealth he had
acquired, and the wife who probably mourned but little
for the scarred and deaf old trooper who had won her by
his bow and spear, were all left to be seized by the first
adventurer who was strong enough to take advantage of
the position. Whether by his own wit or the advice
of wise counselors, the young disinherited prince sprang
into the vacant place, and at once a counter revolution

It would seem that the death of his leader raised Fran-
cesco the Savoyard, by an equally sudden leap, into the
front of the captains of that army. He had taken the
name of his village, a well-sounding one and destined to
fatal celebrity, perhaps by reason of the want of a sur-
name which was common to Italian peasants, and which


probably told more among the condottieri, whose ranks
included many of the best names in Italy, than it did in
art. He was still very young, not more than twenty-two.
But he would seem to have had sufficient sense and insight
to perceive the greatness of the opportunity that lay be-
fore him, and to have at once thrown the weight of his
sword and following upon Philip's side. Probably the
two young men had known each other, perhaps been
comrades more or less, when Carmagnola was a young
captain under Facino's orders and Philip an uneasy
loiterer about his noisy court. At all events Carmagnola
at once embraced the prince's cause. He took Milan for
him, killing an illegitimate rival, and overcoming all rival
factions there; and afterward, as commander-in-chief of
the Duke of Milan's forces, reconquered one by one the
revolted cities. This was a slow process, extending over
several seasons for those were the days when everything
was done by rule, when the troops retired into winter
quarters, and a campaign was a leisurely performance,
executed at a time of year favorable for such operations,
and attended by little danger except to the unfortunate
inhabitants of the district in which it was carried on.

The services thus rendered were largely and liberally
rewarded. A kinswoman of Philip's, a lady of the Visconti
family, whose first husband had been high in the duke's
confidence, became Carmagnola's wife, and the privilege
of bearing the name of Visconti and the arms of the
reigning house was conferred upon him. He was not
only the commander-in-chief of the troops, but held a
high place at court, and was one of the chief and most
trusted of Philip's counselors. The Piedmontese soldier
was still a young man when all these glories came upon
him, with accompanying wealth, due also to Philip's
favor, as well as to the booty won in Philip's cause. He
seems to have lived in Milan in a state conformable to
these high pretensions and to the position of his wife,
and was in the act of building himself a great palace, now
known as the Broletto, and appropriated to public use,
when the usual fate of a favorite began to shadow over
him. This was in the year 1424, twelve years after he
had thrown in his fate with the prince in Pavia. The
difference in Philip's position by this time was wonderful.
He had then possessed nothing save a doubtful claim on


the city where he was an exile and prisoner. He was
now one of the greatest powers in Italy, respected and
feared by his neighbors, the master of twenty rich cities,
and of all the wealthy Lombard plains. To these Car-
magnola had lately added the richest prize of all, in
the humiliation and overthrow of Genoa, superbest of
northern towns, with her seaboard and trade, and all her
proud traditions of independence, the equal and rival of
the great republic of Venice. Perhaps this last feat had
unduly exalted the soldier, and made him feel himself as
a conqueror, something more than the duke's humble
kinsman and counselor; at all events, the eve of the
change had come.

The tenure of a favorite's favor is always uncertain and
precarious. In those days there were many who rose to
the heights of fame only to be tumbled headlong in a
moment from that dazzling eminence. Carmagnola was
at the very height of fortune when clouds began to gather
over his career, though no idea of treachery was then
imputed to him; he had been, if anything, too zealous for
his duke, to whose service in the meantime, as to that of
a great and conquering prince, full of schemes for enlarg-
ing his own territory and affording much occupation for
a brave soldiery, many other commanders had flocked.
The enemies of Carmagnola were many. Generals whom
he had beaten felt their downfall all the greater that it
had been accomplished by a fellow without any blood
worth speaking of in his veins; and others whom it would
have pleased Philip to secure in his service were too
proud to serve under a man who had thus risen from the

The first sign which the doomed general received of his
failing favor was a demand from Philip for the squadron
of horsemen, three hundred in number, who seem to have
been Carmagnola's special troop, and for whom the duke
declared that he had a particular use. The reply of the
general is at once picturesque and pathetic. He implored
Philip not to take the weapons out of the hands of a man
born and bred in the midst of arms, and to whom life
would be bare indeed without his soldiers. As a matter
of fact, it is to be presumed that this was but the thin end
of the wedge, and that other indignities were prepared to
follow. The clique at Milan which was furthering his


downfall was led by two courtiers, Riccio and Lampug-
nano. " Much better," says Bigli, the historian of Milan,
who narrates diffusely the whole course of the quarrel,
" would it have been for our state had such men as these
never been born. They kept everything from the duke

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 18 of 35)