Mrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) Oliphant.

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

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to whom this duty ordinarily fell, nominated only, in the
first place, such members of the existing Consiglio Mag-
giore as had in their own persons or in those of their
fathers sat in the council during the last four years, who
were then re-elected by ballot, taken for each man in-
dividually by the Forty, a recently constituted body; to
whom a further number of names from outside were then
proposed, and voted for in the same way. Thus the
majority of members elected was not only confined to
those possessing a hereditary claim, but the election was
taken out of the hands of the traditional electors and
transferred to those of the existing rulers of the city.
The new method was first tried for a year, and then
established as the fundamental law of the republic, with
the further exclusion of the one popular and traditional
element, the nominal four electors, whose work was now
transferred to the officials of the state. The change
thus carried out was great in principle, though perhaps
not much different in practice from that which had be-
come the use and wont of the city. "The citizens,"
says Romanin, " were thus divided into three classes


ist, those who neither in their own persons nor through
their ancestors had ever formed part of the great council;
zd, those whose progenitors had been members of it;
3d, those who were themselves members of the council,
both they and their fathers. The first were called New
men, and were never admitted save by special grace;
the second class were included from time to time;
finally, the third were elected by full right."

This was the law which, under the name of the Serrata
del Consiglio Maggiore, caused two rebellions in Venice
and confirmed forever beyond dispute her oligarchical
government. Her parliament, so fondly supposed to be
that of the people, was no more closed to the New men
than is our House of Lords. Now and then an excep-
tional individual might be nominated, and by means of
great services, wealth, or other superior qualities, obtain
admission. It was indeed the privilege and reward
henceforward zealously striven for by the plebeian class,
and, unfortunately, more often bestowed in recompense
for the betrayal of political secrets, and especially of
popular conspiracies, than for better reasons. But the
right was with those whose fathers had held the position
before them, whose rank was already secure and ascer-
tained, the nobles and patrician classes. The hereditary
legislator thus arose in the bosom of the state which
considered itself the most free in Christendom, in his
most marked and distinct form. Romanin tells us that
the famous Libro d'Oro, the book of nobility, was formed
in order to keep clear the descent and legitimacy of all
claimants ; bastards, and even the sons of a wife not noble,
being rigorously excluded. The law itself was strength-
ened by successive additions, so as to confine the electors
exclusively to the patrician class.

The war with Genoa was still filling all minds when this
silent revolution was accomplished. How could Venice
give her attention to what was going on in the gilded
chambers of the Palazzo, when day by day the city was
convulsed by bad news or deluded by faint gleams of
better hope? Once and again the Venetian fleets were
defeated, and mournful galleys came drifting up, six or
seven out of a hundred, to tell the tale of destruction
and humiliation; and ever with renewed efforts, in a rage
of despairing energy, the workmen toiling in the arsenal,


the boatmen giving up their tranquil traffic upon the
lagoons to man the new appointed ships, and every
family, great and small, offering its dearest to sustain
the honor of the republic, the energies of the city were
strained to the utmost. In the autumn of 1298, just
when the Serrata had been confirmed in the statute-book,
the great fleet, commanded by Admiral Andrea Dandolo,
sailed from the Port, with all the aspect of a squadron
invincible, to punish the Genoese and end the war. In
one of the ships was a certain Marco Polo, from his home
near San Giovanni Chrisostomo, Marco of the Millions, a
great traveling merchant, whose stories had been as
fables in his countrymen's ears. This great expedition
did indeed for the time end the war; but not by victory.
It was cruelly defeated on the Dalmatian coasts after a
stubborn and bloody struggle. The admiral Andrea
dashed his head against his mast and died rather than be
taken to Genoa in chains; while the humbler sailor Marco
Polo, with crowds of his countrymen, was carried off to
prison there, to his advantage and ours, as it turned out.
But Venice was plunged into mourning and woe, her
resources exhausted, her captains lost. Genoa, who had
bought the victory dear, was in little less unhappy con-
dition; and in the following year the rival republics were
glad to make peace under every pledge of mutual for-
bearance and friendship for as long as it could last. It
was only after this conclusion of the more exciting
interests abroad that the Venetians at home, recovering
tranquillity, began to look within and see in the mean-
time what the unpopular doge and his myrmidons, while
nobody had been looking, had been engaged about.

It is difficult to tell what the mass of the people thought
of the new position of affairs; for all the chroniclers are
on the winning side, and even the careful Romanin has
little sympathy with the revolutionaries. The Venetian
populace had long been pleasantly deceived as to their
own power. They had been asked to approve what their
masters had decided upon and made to believe it was
their own doing. They had given a picturesque and
impressive background as of a unanimous people to the
decisions of the doge and his counselors, the sight of
their immense assembly making the noble French envoys
weep like women. But whether they had begun to see


through those fine pretenses of consulting them, and to
perceive how little they had really to do with it all, no
one tells us. Their attempt to elect their own doge r
without waiting for the authorities, looks as if they had
become suspicious of their masters. And at the same
time the arbitrary closing of the avenues of power to all
men whose fortune was not made or their position secure,
and the establishment in the council of that hereditary
principle so strenuously opposed in the election of the
doges, were sufficiently distinct changes to catch the
popular eye and disturb the imagination. Accordingly,
when the smoke of war cleared off and the people came
to consider internal politics, discontent and excitement
arose. This found vent in a sudden and evidently natural
outburst of popular feeling. The leader of the malcon-
tents was "a certain Marino whose surname was Boc-
conio," says Sabellico, " a man who was not noble, nor
of the baser sort, but of moderate fortune, bold and ready
for any evil," precisely of that class of new men to whom
political privileges are most dear, one on the verge of a
higher position, and doubtless hoping to push his way
into parliament and secure for his sons an entry into the
class of patricians. "He was much followed for his.
wealth," says another writer. Sanudo gives an account
of Bocconio's (or Bocco's) rebellion, which the too well
informed Romanin summarily dismisses as a fable, but
which as an expression of popular feeling, and the aspect
which the new state of affairs bore to the masses, has a
certain value. The matter-of-fact legend of shutting out
and casting forth embodies in the most forcible way the
sense of an exclusion which was more complete than
could be effected by the closing of any palace doors.
Bocconio and his friends, according to Sanudo, indignant
and enraged to be shut out from the council, crowded
into the Piazza, with many followers, at the time when
they supposed the elections to be going on, and found the
gates closed and the Gentilhuomini assembled within.

Then beating at the door they called out that they desired to form
part of the council, and would not be excluded ; upon which the doge
sent messengers to tell them that the council was not engaged upon the
election, but was discussing other business. As they continued, how-
ever, to insist upon coming in, the doge, seeing that he made no advance
but that the tumult kept increasing in the Piazza, deliberated with the


council how to entrap these seditious persons, to call forth against them
ultimum de potentia, the severest penalty of the law. Accordingly he
sent to tell them that they should be called in separately in parties of
five, and that those who succeeded in the ballot should remain as mem-
bers of the council, on condition that those who failed should disperse
and go away. The first called were Marino Bocco, Jacopo Boldo, and
three others. The doors were then closed and a good guard set, after
which the five were stripped and thrown into a pit, the Trabucco della
Toresella, and so killed; and the others being called in, in succession,
And treated in the same way, the chief men and ringleaders were thus
disposed of to the number of a hundred and fifty or sixty men. The
crowd remaining in the Piazza persuaded themselves that all those who
were called in, of whom none came back, had been made nobles of the
Great Council. And when it was late in the evening the members of
the council came down armed into the Piazza, and a proclamation was
made by order of the doge that all should return to their homes on pain
of punishment ; hearing which the crowd, struck with terror, had the
grace to disperse in silence. Then the corpses of those who were dead
were brought out and laid in the Piazza, with the command that if any-
one touched them it should be at the risk of his head. And when it was
seen that no one was bold enough to approach, the rulers perceived that
the people were obedient. And some days after, as they could not
tolerate the stench, the bodies were buried. And in this manner ended
that sedition, so that no one afterward ventured to open his mouth on
such matters.

This legend Sanudo takes, as he tells us, from the
chronicles of a certain Zaccariada Pozzo; and it does not
interfere with his faith in the narrative that he himself
has recorded on a previous page the execution of Bocco
and his fellow conspirators "between the columns" in
the usual way. Perhaps he too felt that this wild yet
matter-of-fact version of the incident, the closed doors
and the mysterious slaughter of the intruders in the hid-
den courts within, was an effective and natural way of
representing the action of a constitutional change so
important. The names of the conspirators who died
with Bocconio are almost all unknown and obscure names,
yet there was a sprinkling of patricians, upholders of the
popular party, such as are always to be found on similar
occasions, and which reappear in the more formidable
insurrection that followed. For the moment, however,
the summary extinction of Bocconio's ill-planned rebellion
intimidated and silenced the people, while, on the other
side, it was made an occasion of tightening the bonds of
the Serrata, and making the admission of the homo novus
more difficult than ever.

This little rebellion, so soon brought to a conclusion,


took place in the spring of the year 1300, the year of the
jubilee, when all the world was crowding to Rome, and
Dante, standing on the bridge of St. Angelo, watching
the streams of the pilgrims coming and going, bethought
himself, like a true penitent, of his own moral condition,
and in the musings of his supreme imagination found
himself astray in evil paths, and began to seek through
hell and heaven the vcrace via, the right way which he
had lost. This great scene of religious fervor, in which
so many penitents from all quarters of the world renewed
the vows of their youth and pledged over again their
devotion to the Church and the Faith, comes strangely
into the midst of the fierce strife between Guelf and
Ghibelline, which then rent asunder the troubled Conti-
nent, and especially Italy, where every city took part in
the struggle. Venice, in the earlier ages as well as in
later times when she maintained her independence
against papal interference, has usually shown much
indifference to the authority of the Pope. But in the
beginning of the fourteenth century this was impossible,
especially when the great Republic of the Sea meddled,
as she had no right to do, with the internal policy of that
Terra Firma, the fat land of corn and vine, after which
she had always a longing. And there now fell upon her,
in the midst of all other contentions, the most terrible of
all the catastrophes to which mediaeval States were sub-
ject, the curse of Rome. It was, no doubt, rather with
that keen eye to her own advantage which never failed
her, than from any distinct bias toward the side of the
Ghibelline, that Venice had interposed in the question of
succession which agitated the city of Ferrara, and finally
made an attempt to establish her own authority in that
distracted place. Indeed it seems little more than an
accidental appeal on the part of the other faction to the
protection of the Pope which brought upon her the ter-
rible punishment of the excommunication which Pope
Clement launched from Avignon, and which ruined her
trade, reduced her wealth, put all her wandering mer-
chants and sailors in danger of their lives, and almost
threatened with complete destruction the proud city
which had held her head so high. It would have been
entirely contrary to the habits of Venice, as of every
other republican community, not to have visited this


great calamity more or less upon the head of the state.
And it gave occasion to the hostile families who from the
time of Gradenigo's accession had been seeking an
opportunity against him the house of Tiepolo and its
allies, the Quirini, who had opposed the war of Ferrara all
through and had suffered severely in it, and others, in
one way or another adverse to the existing Government.
The Tiepoli do not seem to have been generally of the
mild and noble character of him who had refused to be
elected doge by the clamor of the Piazza. They had
formed all through a bitter opposition party to the doge
who had displaced their kinsman. Perhaps even Jacopo
Tiepolo, himself, while retiring from the strife to save
the peace of the republic, had a natural expectation
that the acclamation of the populace would be confirmed
by the votes of the electors. At all events his family
had throughout maintained a constitutional feud, keep-
ing a keen eye upon all proceedings of the Government,
and eager to find a sufficient cause for interference
more practical.

It would seem a proof that the popular mind had not
fully awakened to the consequences of the change of laws
at the moment of Bocconio's insurrection that the patrician
opposition did not seize that opportunity. The occasion
they sought came later, when the disastrous war and the
horrors of the interdict, events more immediately per-
ceptible than any change of constitution, had excited all
minds and opened the eyes of the people to their internal
wrongs by the light of those tremendous misfortunes which
the ambition or the unskillfulness of their doge and his
advisers had brought upon them. The rebellious faction
took advantage of all possible means to fan the flame of dis-
content; stimulating the stormy debates of the Consiglio
Maggiore, which was not more but less easy to manage
since it had been restricted to the gentry, while at the same
time stirring up the people to a sense of the profound injury
of exclusion from its ranks. The Quirini, the Badoeri,
and various others, connected by blood and friendship
with the Tiepoli, among whom were hosts of young gal-
lants always ready for a brawl, and ready to follow any
warlike lead, to quicken the action of their seniors,
increased the tension on all sides. How the excitement
grew in force and passion day by day; how one incident

8a . ICE.

. s'.ss upon the I he state.

; o the hostile families who from the
. )'s accession had been seeking an
jst himthe house of Tiepolo and its
rmi, who hat! opposed the war of Ferraraall
.nd had suffered severely in it, and others, in
or another adverse to the existing Government,
i'iepoli do not seem to have been generally of the
\nd noble character of him who had refused to be
d doge by. the clamor of the Piazza. They had
formed all through a bitter opposit " to the doge

who had displaced their kinsman. 1'i-rh.ips e v ?n Jacopo
Tiepolo, himself, whii< from . to save

the peace of the n- -ad a na i \tion

that the acclan ulace would be confirmed

by the votes of t>. At all events his family

had througho itional feud, keep-

ing a keen eyt ' the Government,

and eager to fin :-,t cause for interference

It would sec. mind had not

fully awakened to t
at the moment of Boer-
;>n did not sei
i ht came lat<
the interdict.
;.n any change

the eyes o-
.t of those ti
'.he unskillful:

!.-!^ht upon them. action

ill possible means t .meofdis-

.!ig the stormy dt-L Consiglio

was not more bu: ssy to manage

:-stricted to the gentry, while at the same

ie people to a sense of the profound injury

it*, ranks The Quirini, the Badoeri,

)nnec-.ed by blood and friendship

with ag whom were hosts of young gal-

lants alw brawl, and ready to follow any

warlike h the action of their set

increased' ides. How the ex

grew in force . by day ; how one


after another raised the growing wrath ; how scuffles arose
in the city and troubles multiplied, it is not difficult to
imagine. On one occasion a Dandolo took the wall of a
Tiepolo and a fight ensued; on another, "the devil, who
desires the destruction of all government," put it into the
head of Marco Morosini, one of the Signori di Notte (or
night magistrates), to inquire whether Pietro Quirini of
the elder branch (della Ca' Grande) was armed, and to
order him to be searched; on which Quirini, enraged,
tripped up the said Morosini with his foot, and all the
Rialto was forthwith in an uproar. The houses of the
chiefs of the party, both Tiepoli and Quirini, were in
the quarter of the Rialto, and close to the bridge.

At length the gathering fire burst into flame. No
doubt driven beyond patience by some incident, trifling
in itself, Marco Quirini, one of the heads of his house, a
man who had suffered much in the war with Ferrara,
called his friends and neighbors round him in his palace,
and addressed the assembled party; attacking the doge
as the cause of all the troubles of the country, the chief
instrument in changing the constitution, in closing the
Great Council to the people, in carrying on the fatal war
with Ferrara, and bringing down upon the city the
horrors of the excommunication. To raise a party against
the doge for private reasons, however valid, would not
be, he said, the part of a good citizen. But how could
they stand cold spectators of the ruin of their beloved
and injured country, or shut their eyes to the fact that
the evil passions of one man were the chief cause of their
misery, and that it was he who had not only brought
disaster from without, but, by the closing of the council,
shut out from public affairs so many of the worthiest
citizens? He was followed by a younger and still more
ardent speaker in the person of Bajamonte Tiepolo, the
son of Jacopo, with whose name henceforward this
historical incident is chiefly connected, at that time one
of the most prominent figures in Venice, the Gran Cava-
liero of the people, who loved him, and among whom he
had inherited his father's popularity. "Let us leave
words and take to action," he said, "nor pause till we
have placed on the throne a good prince, who will restore
the ancient laws, and preserve and increase the public
freedom." The struggle was probably in its essence


much more a family feud than a popular outbreak, but it
is a sign of the excitement of the time that the wrongs of
the people were at every turn appealed to as the one
unquestionable argument.

Never had there been a more apt moment for a popular
rising. "In the first place," says Caroldo, "the city
was very ill content with the illustrious Pietro Gradenigo,
who in the beginning of his reign had the boldness to
reform the Consiglio Maggiore ; admitting a larger number
of families who were noble, and few of those who ought
to have been the principal and most respected of the city,
taking from the citizens and populace the ancient mode
of admission into the council; the root of this change
being the hatred he bore to the people, who, before his
election, had proclaimed Jacopo Tiepolo doge, and
afterward had shown little satisfaction with the choice
made of himself. And not only did he bear rancor
against Jacopo Tiepolo, but against the whole of his

Notwithstanding this rancor Jacopo Tiepolo himself,
the good citizen, was the only one who now raised his
voice for peace and endeavored to calm the excitement
of his family and their adherents. But the voice of
reason was not listened to. On the night of the i4th of
June, 1310, ten years after Bocconio's brief and ill-fated
struggle, the fires of insurrection were again lighted up
in Venice. The conspirators gathered during the night
in the Quirini Palace, meeting under cover of the dark-
ness in order to burst forth with the early dawn, and
with an impeto, a sudden rush from the Rialto to the
Piazza, to gain possession of the center of the city and
seize and kill the doge. The night, however, was not
one of those lovely nights of June which make Venice a
paradise. It was a fit night for such a bloody and fatal
undertaking as that on which these muffled conspirators
were bound. A great storm of thunder and lightning,
such as has nowhere more magnificent force than on the
lagoons, burst forth while their bands were assembling,
and torrents of rain poured from the gloomy skies. It
was in the midst of this tempest, which favored while it
cowed them, the peals of the thunder making their cries
of *' Death to the doge! " and " Freedom to the people! "
inaudible, and muffling the tramp of their feet, that the


insurrectionists set forth. One half of the little army,
under Marco Quirini, kept the nearer way along the canal
by bridge and fondamenta; the other, led by Bajamonte
himself, threaded their course by the narrow streets of
the Merceria to the same central point. The sounds of
the march were lost in the commotion of nature, and the
dawn for which they waited was blurred in the stormy
tumult of the elements. The dark line of the rebels
pushed on, however, spite of storm and rain; secure, it
would seem, that their secret had been kept and that
their way was clear before them.

But in the meantime the doge, who, whatever were his
faults, seems to have been a man of energy and spirit,
had heard, as the authorities always heard, of the in-
tended rising; and taking his measures as swiftly and
silently as if he had been the conspirator, called together
all the officers of state, with their retainers and servants,
and sending off messengers to Chioggia, Torcello, and
Murano for succor, ranged his little forces in the Piazza.
under the flashing of the lightning and the pouring of
the rain, and silently awaited the arrival of the rebels.
A more dramatic scene could not be conceived. The
two lines of armed men stumbling on in the darkness,
waiting for a flash to show them the steps of a bridge or
the sharp corner of a narrow calle, pressed on in mutual
emulation, their hearts hot for the attack, and all the
points of the assault decided upon. Whenlo! as the first
detachment, that led by Quirini, debouched into the
great square, a sudden wild flash, lighting up earth and
heaven, showed them the gleaming swords and dark files
of the defenders of San Marco awaiting their arrival. The
surprise would seem to have been complete; but it was
not the doge who was surprised. This unexpected revela-
tion precipitated the fight, which very shortly, the leaders
being killed in the first rush, turned into a rout. Baja-
monte appearing with his men by the side of the Merceria
made a better stand, but the advantage remained with
the doge's party, who knew what they had to expect, and
had the superior confidence of law and authority on their

By this time the noise of the human tumult surmounted

Online LibraryMrs. (Margaret Oliphant Wilson) OliphantThe makers of Venice; doges, conquerors, painters, and men of letters → online text (page 9 of 35)