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noted Condottieri, Taliano, Furlano, Antonello da Siena,
and Jacopo da Lunato, who, also professing to act on behalf
of the council, invaded the duchy of Spoleto. Nor did
the difficulties of Eugenius end here ; for he now found by
sad experience, that he who in the hour of prosperity in-
jures a benefactor, may in the season of adversity find
that benefactor in the number of his most implacable ene-
mies. His territories were harrassed by the able warrior
Niccolo Fortebraccio, who had formerly commanded the
pontifical troops with great courage and fidelity, and had
reduced under the ecclesiastical dominion the towns of

CHAP. V. 205

Vetralla and Civita Vecchia ; but when be demanded tbe
recompense to which be justly imagined himself entitled,
bad indignantly received for answer, that the booty which
he had taken in the expedition in which he had been en-
gaged was an ample remuneration for his services. Pog-
gio, who regarded bis native country with that proud par-
tiality which has always been a striking feature in the
character of the Italians, was greatly chagrined when he
saw the dominions of the pontiff laid waste by a war, the
flames of which were kindled by a convention of Germans.
His attachment to his master also filled him with the deep-
est concern, when he beheld the difficulties and dangers to
which Eugenius was exposed by the incursions of his ene-
mies. His sense of the pontiffs misfortunes was the more
acute, as he was well aware, that the comforts and emolu-
ments of the officers of the pontifical household were liable
to be materially diminished by the interruption of business,
and the defalcation of the papal revenues, which must be
the inevitable consequence of the present disturbances.
Recollecting the disagreeable situation in which he had been
formerly placed by the deposition of John XXII. , he was
fearful lest the council of Basil should dethrone his present
lord, by which circumstance he would be reduced to the
disgraceful alternative of either quitting the line of prefer-
ment, in which he had fixed all his hopes of future subsist-
ence, or of adhering to the fortunes of a master, whose
embarrassments would deprive him of the means of giving
his servants a remuneration at all adequate either to their
merits, or to their necessities. Full of these gloomy pre-
sages, he determined once more to address himself to the

206 THAI'. V.


cardinal of St. Angelo, whom he regarded as at least the
innocent author of the calamities which affected every con-
siderate mind with sorrow. He accordingly transmitted to
him the following letter, in which, wisely forbearing to re-
proach his friend for his past conduct, or to enforce with
importunate energy the necessity of adopting new mea-
sures, he gave him such an account of the state of Italy,
and of his own feelings, as was well calculated to make an
impression upon his heart.

" Being some time ago alarmed by the prospect of
" impending calamity, and clearly foreseeing the tempests
" which have now begun to rage with the utmost violence, I
" detailed my apprehensions in a letter which I intended,
" most reverend father, to have addressed to you. That
" letter, which the nature of its subject caused to be ex-
" tended to an extraordinary length, I did not send to
" you, according to my original design not through
" fear of exciting your displeasure (for I know you too
" well to entertain any apprehensions on that subject)
" but through dread of giving offence to others. For
" though I am conscious that I was prompted to write
" merely by a wish to promote the public good, I
" was apprehensive lest my motives should be misconstrued,
" and lest it should be thought that my letter was dictated
" by flattery. You, however, and many other respectable
" characters, can bear witness, that flattery is not by any
" means among the number of my failings, and that
" neither a love of reputation, nor a regard for my own
" interest, ever induces me to prostitute my opinions, or

CHAP. V. 207

" to approve in words, what I disapprove in my heart.
" On some occasions indeed I have been materially injured
" by the freedom with which I am accustomed to speak my
" sentiments. But sensible as I was, that the dissensions
" of the powerful are always dangerous, and that the
" dissensions of ecclesiastics are attended with peculiar
" peril, inasmuch as they involve the hazard of immortal
" souls ; having also frequently read and heard, that
" trifling disagreements have been inflamed into the
" greatest animosity and strife, to the utter ruin of states
" and empires, I was afraid lest this new contention
" amongst the chiefs of the sacerdotal order, should
" involve the Christian world in difficulties, which neither
" you nor your associates, whatever might be your incli-
" nation, would be able to obviate. When we are called
" to the task of deliberation, we may forbear to act if we
** please. But when we have begun to act, fortune, the
" arbitress of human affairs, directs the event ; and directs
" it rather according to the dictates of her caprice, as
" Sallust observes, than according to the principles of
" reason. When you have once put yourself in motion,
" you cannot stop when you please. In perilous seasons
' it is the duty of the wise to try to preserve the ship by
" retaining it in the harbour- When you have committed
" yourself to the winds, you are compelled to obey their
" impulse. In these circumstances the most skilful pilot
" may suffer shipwreck, or at least, despairing of making
" any effectual resistance against the fury of the gale, he
" may be carried into regions far distant from those to
" which it was his wish to steer his course. When I

208 CHAP. V.

" reflected on these topics, I was in a manner irresistibly
" impelled, by my affection for our common country, to
" acquaint you with my sentiments. After having resided
" for so many years in the Roman court, I was grieved to
" see our affairs reduced to such a state, that we had every
" thing to fear, and but little to hope. In these circum-
" stances I had no consolation for my sorrow : for I have
" not, like others, been so intent upon amassing riches,
" as to be able to lose my sense of the public calamity in
" the contemplation of my private prosperity. I could wish
" to be numbered amongst those

" Whose walls now rise, who rest in soft repose."

" Though I am sensibly affected by the distresses of
tf our church, yet I must confess, that if my own fortunes
" were not involved in the common danger, I should feel
" little compassion for those who have brought mischief
" upon their own heads, by the obstinate folly of their
" councils. But I am now distressed by a double grief.
" For as I have two countries, namely, the land of my
" nativity and the Roman court, the theatre of my industri-
" ous exertions, the ruin of the latter, which seems to be
" fast approaching, cannot but bring calamity upon the
" former. And certainly, matters are now brought to such
" an extremity, that human wisdom seems incompetent to
" the healing of the evil. A fire is kindled, which nothing
" but the most extensive ruin can extinguish. Much better
" Would it have been that this unfortunate council had
" never assembled, than that it should have occasioned the

CHAP. V. 209

" devastation of Italy. We daily behold the fortresses and
" towns of this unhappy country plundered by a lawless
" soldiery. Slaughter, fire, rapine, the violation of help-
" less females, swell the catalogue of her woes. Great occa-
" sion have we to lament, that the Holy Spirit (if indeed
" it now deigns to dwell amongst us) has changed its nature,
" and instead of being the author of peace and concord, is
" become the exciter of hatred and malevolence. Some
" people have entertained an opinion, that Italy has too
" long enjoyed the blessings of tranquillity, and they have
" supplied the ambitious with the means of disturbing the
" public peace. By this conduct they attempt to cure a
" slight indisposition by the introduction of a dangerous
" disease. For though it may be justly said, that the
" ecclesiastical body was in some respects out of order, the
" complaint was not of so serious a nature as to require the
" application of such violent remedies as are now resorted
" to. It can never be the part of wisdom to correct one
" error by the commission of a greater. But let us submit
" the issues of things to the direction of Providence. One
" thing I foresee, that some nations will derive advantage
" from our ruin, whilst others will share our afflictions. But
" I am not anxious about the destiny of other countries.
" I mourn over the calamities which I am well aware will be
" brought upon Italy by the oppression which we endure,
" and by the ambition of a prince who wishes to reign
" according to the dictates of his own arbitrary will. You
" must remember that I prophesied, that these evils would
" flow from the convocation of the council ; and I have
" resolved to address you once more on this subject, in

2 E

210 CHAP. V.

" order to assure you that I was not prompted by resentment
" thus to communicate my opinion, and to prognosticate
" impending mischiefs. I beg that you will not be displeased
" either by my former, or by my present letter. If your
" conscience acquits you, regard my remarks as referring to
" others, and not to yourself. If you have inadvertently
(t fallen into error, you ought to be grateful to him, who
" in the honest language of admonition, lays before you
" his own sentiments, or the opinions of the world at large
" concerning the nature of your conduct. For though
** your virtue has raised you to the highest degree of dig-
" nity, yet I know that you are but a man, that many
u circumstances escape your observation, that various
" matters elude your inquiries, and in short, that it is
" impossible for you to attain to universal or infallible
" knowledge."*

It does not appear that this attempt of Poggio to in-
duce the cardinal of St. Angelo to adopt the views of the
Roman court was productive of any benefit either to him-
self or the pontiff. Eugenius, indeed, finding himself in-
volved in the greatest difficulties, had determined to yield
to necessity, and acknowledge the legality of the council.
He accordingly commissioned the archbishop of Taranto,
and the bishop of Cervi, to present to the assembled fathers
a letter, in which he declared, that whereas great dissensions
had arisen in consequence of his having dissolved the coun-

* Poggii Epist. Ivii. p. 221, 222, 223. This letter, which by a typogra-
phical error is dated 1433, was written, Jan. 27th, 1434.


cil then sitting at Basil, he was willing to testify his regard
for the church by confirming the proceedings of that assem-
bly, which he acknowledged to have been legally held and
continued ; unreservedly revoking the bulls by which its
proceedings had been condemned, and professing that he
would henceforth cease from doing any thing to the preju-
dice of the council, or of any of its adherents.* This
letter, which was publicly read in the cathedral of Basil on
the 5th of February 1434, gave considerable satisfaction to
the friends of reformation and peace, who hoped that the
happiest consequences would result from this union of the
head and the principal members of the ecclesiastical body.
Together with his conciliatory epistle, Eugenius sent a
commission, empowering several eminent dignitaries of the
church to act as his representatives, and in his name to
preside at the debates of the council. Such, however, was
the jealousy with which the proceedings of the pontiff were
observed, that before these deputies were permitted in their
official capacity to take any part in the deliberations of the
council, they were compelled to take an oath, whereby they
bound themselves to maintain all the ordinances of that
assembly, and particularly that decree which asserted, that
the authority of a general council is paramount to that of the

Though by these acts of concession Eugenius appeared
to have made his peace with the council, his dominions

* Concilior. torn. xxx. p. 12f>.
t Concilior. p. 146.

212 CHAP. V.

continued to feel the scourge of war. The freebooters by
whom they were infested, in fact despised the debates of
churchmen ; and though they pretended that they invaded
the ecclesiastical states in order to compel Eugenius to sub-
mit to the power of the council, they did not manifest any
disposition fo withdraw their forces when the pretended
object of their expedition was accomplished. In these cir-
cumstances Eugenius endeavoured to diminish the number
of his foes by soliciting Sforza to agree to terms of pacifica-
tion. In this instance his efforts were crowned with the
desired success. Sforza, on condition of his being appointed
to the government of the Marca d'Ancona, with the title
of apostolic vicar and gonfaloniere of the Roman church,
not only consented to abstain from further hostilities
against his holiness, but promised to defend the pontiff
from the attacks of his other enemies In pursuance of
this promise, he turned his arms against Fortebraccio,
whom he fought and defeated near Tivoli. The duke of
Milan was greatly displeased by the change which had so
suddenly taken place in the politics of Sforza; and still
persisting in his determination to harrass the pontiff, he
excited Niccolo Piccinino to attempt the conquest of his
native city Perugia. Piccinino marching into Romagna
with this' intention, kept Sforza in check, and thus favoured
the operations of Fortebraccio. The latter chieftain
having received a reinforcement of troops from Viterbo,
pushed his light cavalry to the very gates of Rome. On
the approach of his forces, the faction of the Colonnas,
who, though not openly, yet deeply resented the cruelty
with which their chiefs had been treated at the commence-

CHAP. V. 213

nient of Eugenius's pontificate, and had long been waiting
for an opportunity of taking vengeance on their adversaries,
flew to arms, exhorting the populace to assert their liberty.
[May 29th, A. D. 1433.] The insurrection soon became
general, and the rebellious Romans, not contented with
imprisoning Francesco Condolmieri, the nephew of Euge-
nius, surrounded with guards the residence of the pontiff
himself. Eugenius, however, disguising himself in the
habit of a monk, had the good fortune to elude their
vigilance ; [June 5th] and, attended by two only of his
domestics, threw himself into a small bark, with an
intention of taking refuge in Ostia. But he had not
proceeded far down the Tyber, before he was recognised
by the populace, who, crowding to the banks of the river,
almost overwhelmed him with a shower of stones and
arrows. So fierce was their attack, that it was not without
considerable difficulty that the fugitive pontiff effected his
escape, and retired, first to Leghorn, and afterwards to

On this occasion the officers of the .pontifical house-
hold were dispersed, each providing for his own safety
according to the dictates of his prudence, or his fear.
The greater number of them, embarking in some small
coasting vessels, set sail for Pisa ; but were met in the
course of their voyage by some Corsican pirates, who plun-
dered them of all their property. Others, attempting to

* Muratori Annali, torn. ix. p. 155, 15tt, 157, 158. Platina, p. 405.
Ambroyii Traversarii Episloke, lib. i. ep. vi. apud notes.

214 CHAP. V.

proceed to Florence by land, were exposed to various
vexations. Poggio had the misfortune to fall into the
hands of the soldiers of Piccinino, who detained him in
captivity, in the expectation of extorting from him a con-
siderable sum of money, by way of ransom.* When the
intelligence of this event reached the Tuscan territory,
it excited the deep concern of all his acquaintance, and
particularly of Ambrogio Traversari, who, without delay,
earnestly solicited Francesco, count of Poppio, to exert
all his influence to procure his liberation.

" Since I wrote to you," says he in his letter to the
count, " I have received information that my most inti-
" mate friend, the dear associate of my studies, Poggio,
" the papal secretary, is detained in captivity by the mag-
" nificent lord and excellent captain Niccolo Piccinino.
" Believe me this intelligence is very painful to my
" feelings but the concern which I experience is much
" alleviated by the opinion which I have long entertained
" of your humanity, and which induces me to hope that
" I shall not make a request to you in vain. I beg and
" beseech you therefore, my lord, to use all diligence to
" effect the liberation of one whom you know to be most
" dear to me. I presume that the illustrious chieftain, at
" whose disposal he now is, can deny you nothing, especi-
" ally when you make a reasonable request on behalf of a
" friend. I should be more diffuse in my petition did I

* Poggii Histor. de Variet. Fortunes, p. 92.

CHAP. V. 215

" think it were needful, and were I not assured, that fewer
" words than those which I have already written will be
** sufficient to induce Piccinino to restore so learned and
" so liberally minded a man as Poggio to liberty. 1 '*

The endeavours of Ambrogio to procure the gratuitous
release of Poggio were ineffectual. The rugged soldiers
who detained the learned secretary in captivity, had no
sympathy with the feelings of friendship. They respected
not the accomplishments of the scholar ; and in all pro-
bability their observation of the esteem in which their
prisoner was held by his friends, served only to enhance the
price which they demanded for his liberation. Finding that
he had no other means of deliverance, Poggio purchased
his freedom at the expense of a sum of money, which the
narrowness of his circumstances rendered it very inconve-
nient for him to paj^ and immediately on his enlargement,
he continued his route to Florence.'!'

* Ambrogii Traversarii Epist. lib. v. ep. x.

f Poggii Hist, de Variet. Fort. p. 92. Opera, p. 392.


STATE of parties in Florence Cosmo de" 1 Medici at
the head of the faction of the people His banish-
ment Poggid's letter to him on that occasion Fran-
cesco Filelfo an enemy of the Medici Poggio's
quarrel with Filelfo.

,1 F


J\.T almost any other period than that of the flight of
Eugenius from Rome, the dangers and inconveniences to
which Poggio was exposed in following the fortunes of his
master, would have been in a great measure counterbalanced
by the opportunity which the translation of the pontifical
court to Florence afforded him of revisiting the scene of
his youthful studies. He was accustomed to regard the
Tuscan capital as a sure refuge in the season of calamity,
as a hospitable retreat, where, whenever he was oppressed
by adverse fortune, he might sooth his cares to rest in the
bosom of friendship. But how frequently do events de-
monstrate the fallaciousness of human expectations ! When
at the termination of his journey, the stately towers of
Florence rose to the view of Poggio, he experienced a
sentiment of deep dejection, in reflecting, that amongst
the friends whose eagerness to congratulate him on his safe
arrival) he anticipated, in pleasing imagination, he should
not now behold his illustrious protector, Cosmo de Medici,
whom the intrigues of faction had lately banished from his
native land. This celebrated man had inherited from hi.s
ancestors a considerable property, which he had improved
by his own industry and skill in mercantile affairs. In
popular governments, riches, if they are diffused with a

220 CHAP. VI.

liberal hand, generally become the means of acquiring
power ; and if the possessor of wealth unite with generosity
the discernment of prudence and the graces of urbanity, he
almost infallibly secures to himself the permanent favour
of the people. To Cosmo, therefore, in whose character
these virtues met in happy conjunction, the Florentine
populace looked up with sentiments of enthusiastic admira-
tion. Examining the history of his native city with the
eye of a statesman, and meditating upon the civic revolu-
tions which he himself had witnessed, that sagacious
politician had observed, that in the contentions for power
which had frequently taken place between the aristocracy
and the lower orders of the state, the plebeian faction had
almost always failed, through want of a leader whose
authority might restrain their irregularities, and whose
judgment might give to their efforts the consistency and
energy of system. In order to supply this deficiency, he
placed himself at the head of the popular party, presuming
no doubt, that whilst he exercised his splendid talents for
the benefit of his adherents, he could at the same time
make use of the favour of the people to promote his own
emolument and glory.* Acting with these views, he soon
gained a degree of ascendency in the republic, which
enabled him to embarrass the measures of the aristocracy.
Cosmo now found by experience, that he who engages in civil
dissensions embarks on a sea of troubles. The chiefs of
the opposite party regarded him with that hatred, which the
privileged orders usually entertain against those who attempt

* Eloffi degli Uomini Illustri Toscani, lorn. i. p. 367-

CHAP. VI. 221

to restrain their ambition and diminish their power. At the
head of the nobility was Rinaldo degli Albizzi, who watched
the proceedings of Cosmo with all the vigilance of fac-
tious jealousy, and resolved to seize the earliest opportunity
to effect his destruction. With this view Rinaldo procured
the appointment of Bernardo Guadagni, a declared enemy
to popular rights, to the office of gonfaloniere, or chief
magistrate of the republic. No sooner was Guadagni in-
vested with his new honours, than he made the requisite
preparations to subdue the faction of the people. At this
time Cosmo was at his country seat at Mugello, a pleasant
valley, situated at a small distance from Florence,* whither
he had withdrawn, in order to avoid the confusion of civil
discord ; but the proceedings of Guadagni could not be con-
cealed from his partizans, who immediately sent messengers
to inform him that his adversaries were meditating some en-
terprise of a hostile nature. On the receipt of this intelligence
Cosmo repaired to Florence, and waiting on some of the
chief magistrates whom he regarded as his personal friends,
he represented to them the reasons which he had to be
alarmed for his safety. Being either ignorant of the designs
of Rinaldo, or eager to secure their victim by the base
artifices of treachery, these men assured him that he had
nothing to fear ; and in order to lull his apprehensions to
sleep, nominated him as one of a council of eight, by whose
advice, as they said, they wished to be guided in the govern-

Eadcm itcr facicnti ad ortum occurrit amrcna vallis, villis ct pagia refcrta
nomine Mugcllum quam intcrfluit (lumen Saeva.

Schotti I tiiier arium Italia, p. 189.

222 CHAP. vi.

nient of the state.* Cosmo put so much confidence in these
demonstrations of friendship, that he readily obeyed a
summons which he soon afterwards received, requiring him
to attend at a council which was to be held on the seventh
of September, 1483, to deliberate upon the best method of
securing the tranquillity of the republic. He was no sooner
arrived at the palace, than the square in front of that edifice
was lined with armed men, commanded by Rinaldo and the
other chiefs of the aristocracy. Under the control of this
guard the people were summoned to elect two hundred
deputies, to whom was to be delegated the important busi-
ness of deciding upon the reforms which were necessary in
the administration of public affairs. These deputies were
no sooner chosen, than their attention was directed to Cos-
mo by his enemies, some of whom loudly demanded his
death, as necessary to the preservation of the public tran-
quillity ; whilst others, more moderate in their views, and
more merciful in their dispositions, insisted upon it, that
this desirable end would be effectually accomplished, by
banishing him to a distance from the territories of the re-
public. During this awful deliberation, Cosmo was detained
a prisoner in the palace, from the windows of which, whilst
he anxiously endeavoured, by watching the gestures of his
judges, to prognosticate his fate, he heard the din of arms,
and observed the movements of the troops. The fear of
some of the deputies, and the secret attachment of others

Online LibraryWilliam ShepherdThe life of Poggio Bracciolini → online text (page 15 of 31)