15th Century Italy Part 2

Welcome back let’s dive right into Milan!

The Duchy of Milan was a brand-new state, only 7 years old in 1402, when its first Duke passed away. Gian Galeazzo Visconti spent most of his reign conquering territory in an attempt to reunite Northern Italy and bickering with the French due to a rivalry between the French queen and Gian’s daughter, Valentina, who married the Duke of Orléans. 

Gian was many things, but an admirable example was not one, and after his death, much infight occurred. Especially between his legitimate and illegitimate children; his kingdom was divided between them and his eldest son from his second marriage, Gian Maria Visconti, inherited the Dukedom of Milan. (His first wife was Isabella de Valois, and they had four children, including Valentina. They had all passed by this point. He had two sons with his second wife, Caterina Visconti, who would both rule after him). Gian Maria was known for his cruelty, specifically his murderous dogs. He would be assassinated ten years into his rule in front of the San Gottardo church. His brother Filipo would go on to succeed him. Filipo, while a decent politician, was also cruel and paranoid like his brother before him. He picked fights with neighbors and allies, including Florence, and besides being married twice, only left behind one illegitimate daughter, Bianca. 

*Fun fact though, he is known for having the first known commissioned set of trionfi (tarot) cards used in card games and some fortune telling.*

Upon his death in 1447, a succussion crisis evolved. He had no male heirs, and he had bequeathed Milan to Alfonso of Aragon, but Charles, Duke of Orléans, and husband to his sister also believed he had a claim. So did his daughter’s husband, Francesco Sforza. The people of Milan had a different idea, and the Ambrosian Republic was formed after overthrowing the Bracceshi family that were strongly supporting Alfonso. The idea was excellent in theory, but most of the territory outside Milan’s borders had been captured, and holding it as a Republic proved challenging. Many defected and some declared their own independence. Sforza moved quickly at the instance of his mother-in-law and gained control of Pavia, building it into an almost second capitol to Milan. He acted as Captian General of Milan at the insistence of the people, and he worked diligently though the Republic made it difficult. They would veto his battle tactics, and when the Guelphs (Sforza and the Republic were formed by Ghibillines) brought Venice into the battle for power, it seemed Milan was doomed. While they were sieging Lodi, the Venetians snuck into a vulnerable Cremona to destroy its bridge. They were greeting by Sforza’s wife, Bianca, who commanded the remaining soldiers and held off the Venetians until her husband arrived. The Venetians retreated to their fleet and attempted to wait for reinforcements, but Sforza destroyed the fleet. 

Despite all he had done for the Republic, the leader still feared him, and people (specifically the Piccinino brothers) plotted against him. Seeing as he was pretty much the only thing keeping Milan together, this infuriated him. Many men in this period would retaliate directly, but Sforza was not your typical man. Instead, he said fine, you don’t need me, I’ll leave. He then negotiated to deflect to Venice for 13,000 ducats and the Duchy of Milan. In return, they gave him Ghiaradadda, Crema, and accepted his offer for his service. This basically undid all the work he had done for Milan since the Republic’s creation, and now not only was Milan out a brilliant strategist, that man was actively working against them. The Piccinino brothers took his role as Captian General, but it did not matter. Crime became rampant, high taxes infuriated the people, and the in-fighting between the Guelphs and Ghibillines caused major problems inside Milan, while Sforza slowly picked off the surrounding territories. When he finally reached the city, he decided to wait them out and starve the city versus attempting to take it by force. It worked, but the surrounding Venetians feared a Milan ran by Sforza and preferred the weak Republic it had become, and forced a peace that the Milan happily accepted. 

Sforza, not so much. He disregarded the treaty despite the threats, defeated his Ventian enemy (Sigismondo Malatesta), secured Savoy allyship, and continued his attack. The Stampa family, sick of the fighting, launched a coup and voiced their support for Sforza. He had been generous as their Captain-General, which led to support through the public for his return as well, and by March 22, 1450 he was named Duke of Milan (by right of his wife). As Duke, he allied with Florence against Venice and Naples, at least until the Treaty of Lodi that created peace and legitimized Sforza’s title in Milan. Illness in 1462 slowed him down before finally killing him in 1466. His son, Galeazzo Maria Sforza, succeeded him. 

Galeazzo is known for two things. Slightly for being a patron of music, mostly for being a monster. He enjoyed devising torture methods for those who offended him, and raping the women of court (the mistresses he did have would be handed down like property to his nobles). He starved a priest, nailed a man to his coffin, and forced a man to eat a whole hare, fur and all. It was no surprise when he was assassinated in 1476, a decade after his father, and the day after Christmas. His son, named Gian for his grandfather, would succeed him as Duke. His fate is tragic, as he was seven when he inherited the title, and it was wrestled from him by his uncle, Ludovico Sforza. Gian was dead by the age of 25 after being imprisoned.

Ludovico appeared to be the savior Milan needed; he focused on agriculture, expanded into the metal and silk industries, as well as building the military and many other projects. This led to high taxes and a few riots, but Milan seemed to be growing. Until the death of his wife, Beatrice d’Este. Despite having never been faithful to her, her death devastated him. His grief shrouded the court, and it was the beginning of the end. In 1494, he had invited both the King of France (Charles VIII) and the Holy Roman Emperor (Maximillian I). His plan was to play them against one another and reap the rewards. Then Charles died, and Louis XII, his cousin and successor, had a claim to Milan through his mother, Valentina Visconti. He decided to act on this threat, and since Ludovico is the one who invited the French into Italy, the other Italian States let him fall. He was ousted as Duke and fled, hoping to recoup and regain the title. He sought aid from the Emperor, who sent a Swiss army. Well, the French also had a Swiss army, and the two refused to fight one another. The Swiss handed over Ludovico, and he died imprisoned by the French in 1508. Louis XII claimed the title of Duke of Milan until Ludovico’s son overthrow him in the next century.

Venice, however, was a completely different story. As a Republic, Venice was thriving. Elections produced effective doges, and trade brought it wealth to help stabilize their state. The city itself was beautiful, full of life, and typically described as well-governed. They had their hands in almost every trade market available, and were able to maintain a foothold in Constinopale after the Ottomans conquered it. Being the richest city in Europe wasn’t easy though. Their trade required a strong military, and their navy held over 3,000 ships. Conflicts with the Turks were ongoing and led to significant bloodshed on both sides. They worked to expand their territory, to the point there were rumors the Pope feared Venice was attempting to conquer all Italy. Their expansion did leave them in direct conflict with most of Italy, though the main culprits who dragged everyone else in were Milan and Florence, who were also seeking to expand their borders. Towards the end of the century, they attempted to help Pope Sixtus IV attempt to conquer the Duchy of Ferarra, but there were conflicts with Pope Innocent VIII. 

When the French decided to begin to swallow Italian territories, Ventians fought to keep him out (expect for with Milan from what happened above, he was fully on Louis XII side for that) and the Republic allied with Naples and Aragon. This gave them more ports and power in Europe, and frustration was slowly growing among the other states in Italy. While in this century, Venice enjoys the perks of having the best trade in Europe (despite the ongoing fighting), in the next century, the city faces the backlash of bullying your neighbors in what is called the League of Cambria. We will also learn how they and the rest of the States respond to the Italian Wars that will dominate 65 years of history as Spain and France throw temper tantrums over who rules what.

We will learn more about the build up to this as we cover Spain and France in our future post. Follow us for updates as we continue moving through the events of the Renaissance, and thank you for your support!