Now, just to help your sanity and in the interests of setting expectations, may I say that we are in the end game now, if not the beginning of the end, then most certainly the end of the beginning in Winston’s famous circumlocution. But no, actually we are simply at the end – last 3 episodes. The big story of the last 5 years or so is about the two tribes that finally go to war, head to head, mano a mano, womano a womano or whatever the equivalent is, Florence Versus Milan. It’s a struggle beloved of later writers because it’s pitched as a sort of light vs dark struggle, though honestly it’s not really that, but you know, in the eyes of some it’s republican Florence, land of light, liberty and small cute furry animals and the Imperial might of Milan, land of conquest, war, tyranny and cold blooded slippery scaley reptiles and Vipers. So, I have decided to call this episode the tale of two cities – despite the fact that some hack has apparently already used it, although as I’ll explain later it shoi;d maybe be called a Tale of Three cities.
So, we are back in 1387 you may remember, and I should remind you that in the north Gian Galeazzo has taken control of all of Visconti Lombardy, and so Milanese power is immensely enhanced. And the ruler of the combined Duchy would not prove to be the stay at home type. Milan incidentally will officially become a duchy in 1395, when Gian Galeazzo would half inch the title Duke of Milan. Gian Galeazzo was to prove something of a kleptomaniac. Close to Milan, eastwards were Verona and Padua we heard about last time, and the wars had left il Vecchio, Francesca Careera in control of Padua by the end of 1387, but Gian Galeazzo had managed to use the chaos to turf the della Scal out of Verona and take the city over. Also, courtiers noticed his disturbing personal habit whenever he looked towards Padua of licking his lips and dribbling slightly, so that’s something to bear in mind.
Down in Tuscany, from 1387, on the face of it, it’s more about Florence Versus Siena and Florence versus a bunch of mercenaries, but in the way that apparently I am told Jaws is not really about a shark, these troubles are not really just about Siena or marauding mercenaries – they are about power in the peninsula as a whole. Let me give you the big story here, and why this episode should be called the tale of three cities. This is about the expanding power of Florence in the North and Florence in the south and the clash between them. On the way their expansion impacts on other, once powerful cities – in this case particularly Siena, which seeks protection from their Florentine local rival.
But, marauding mercenaries first. There was Italian Mercenary Captain called Giovanni Ubaldini. You have heard his name before before; he was once Verona’s commander and Hawkwood’s admirer at Castagnaro, he’d become a Visconti when they took over Verona. Now apparently he was released by Milan, and he turns up with a large contingent in Bolognese territory and northern Tuscany indulging in the mercenary pillaging idiom. Now Bologna is a trigger point, a point of conflict. It’s not directly in Florentine territory or even Tuscany, but it is very important to Florentine trade, a crucial partner and route and Florence would not be happy to see it fall into unfriendly hands. For the Visconti, Bologna was a living punch in the face. It had once been theirs not long ago, but been taken from them by the Pope. They wanted it back, it would be the gateway to the south. So Bologna is sensitive.
Now honestly Florence didn’t believe that Ubalddini was just doing his thing, they didn’t believe it at all. They saw Gian Galeazzo’s iron claw behind this. However Milan protested Giovanni was nowt to do with them, not our problem speak to the hand sort of thing, Florence remained deeply suspicions and felt pretty convinced that Milan were really paying the pipe and calling the tune in the background. The Sienese ambassador in Florence wrote back home
In speaking with the great citizens it is clear they have great fear of this lord of Milan and don’t doubt Giovanni is at his petition
They had good grounds for this because of course they have, multiple time, played exactly the same game, paying Hawkwood but claiming he was a free agent. So you know…I’m sure there’s some suitable aphorism, distrust breeds distrust, takes one to know one, set a thief to catch a thief sort of thing? However, it’s true to say that having Hawkwood in your stable was a very powerful disincentive to your average mercenary; especially Ubaldini of course, who’d been so deferential to Hawkwood in the Castagnaro campaign. Maybe this helped Florence, Ubaldini and Gian Galeazzo arrive at an agreement, a truce.
So phew, escalation avoided – except then another company turned up, under a captain called La Salle – and again Florence suspected the hand of Milan. Hawkwood again turned them aside and they ended up raiding Lucca, Pisa and Siena – all of those cities then blamed Florence that they chased the band into their lands. A bit like having a neighbour on the allotments who let their weeds grown, and then they blow their seeds all over beautifully manicured patch.
Siena were particularly aggrieved, and let’s turn to that little ball of fun. They were grumpy because when Hawkwood chased the mercenaries off the Florentine patch, he charged Siena 4000 florins to stop him following with his army with all the chaos and damage that would flow from that. They were predictably irritated by what was a double whammy. The thing is, and this will be a continual problem, Hawkwood doesn’t like the Sienese. Over the years of mercenary making bribing and extortion there was bad blood there. Hawkwood took great pleasure in poking the Sienese, the Florentine council keep telling him to get back in his kennel – and the old dog goes back to the kennel with noticeable reluctance for a while then comes out barking again.
None the less, Florence are not that comfortable with Siena either. The thing is that Florence and Siena are neighbours, and sometimes that leads to nice things like nipping round for a bit of sugar, sometimes it leads to massive and protracted trade wars and struggles for influence and independence. There’s more of the latter here; when Florence bought Arezzo from de Coucy, it changed the local balance of power significantly in Tuscany, and one historian has called that a point of no return. Siena feared Florentine growth; Florence feared that Siena were looking for protection to Milan. The Story from 1387 is about a noticeable and continual build up of tension between Siena and Florence, and between Milan and Florence.
It wasn’t helped by exiles. Italy had a lot of exiles. The off cuts of various families cast loose from their home cities by politics or war and invasion. So in Florence at this time there were a couple of incendiaries wandering around. One was Antonio della Scala deposed ruler of Verona, spitting feathers against Milan; so much so that Florence actually asked him to move on to avoid a diplomatic incident. The other was Carlo Visconti, Bernabo’s disinherited son. He proved much more difficult to get rid of, and although he seems to be a serial incompetent, for some reason he and Hawkwood rather hit it off, despite Hawkwood having brutally ignored Carol’s pleas for help and, um, manliness.
Things steadily get worse. Milan’s obvious acquisitiveness doesn’t help. In Bologna, they messed in the local politics, stirring up anti governmental conspiracies. In Padua it was rather more obvious; in November 1388, Gian Galeazzo’s armies entered the city, and il Vecchio was once more out on his ear. At the same time Florence discovered that their Ambassador to Milan had been turned in the words of the espionage game – he’d betrayed their secrets to Milan in return for bribes. Florence was beginning to feel besieged. Meanwhile there was constant tension along the borders between Siena and Florence; both cities parked troops along the borders just in case, and parking troops along the borders just in case never helps the blood pressure. In May 1389 talks with Milan to promote peace rather fell apart in chaos, and war was beginning to feel inevitable – but no one wanted to be seen to pull the trigger.
But the trigger came of its own accord – but rather by accident than design it has to be said, and it was along the border with all those armed blokes hanging about that it came. In August 1389 Hawkwood wrote to Siena complaining about the lack of respect his soldiers had been shown by the Sienese, which I imagine is as clear an example of the pot calling the kettle black as you could wish for. Siena complained right back of course. In the background, meanwhile, the Council at Florence was feeding Hawkwood advice about what to do when the balloon went up – and they were clear that the balloon would indeed reach up for the stars. They advised playing innocent and retiring to a fortified place if fighting did break out so that they would not look like the aggressor. These secret embassies came to Hawkwood from the Council while they were holding peace talks with Siena, by the way. The wonders of diplomacy.
As it happens, it didn’t turn out that way. On 14th August Carlo Visconti claimed that there were troops from Milan on the Sienese side of the border lines – and that they called him names. So of course he set out with a troop and crossed onto Sienese territory. He claimed that the supposedly Sienese troops cried
Long live Siena and the Count of Virtue
Count of Virtue, by the way, was the name Gian Galeazzo had adopted, which is a nice touch. I shall be known as the Podcast of Virtue from here on in. But here again was evidence of collusion between Siena and Milan – or so it was claimed.
Well now, Carlo Visconti was widely believed to be an idiot and an incompetent. But was he so? Carlo wanted a war – without it, he was never going to get back to Milan in a position of power. And when he went, Hawkwood felt obliged to follow. And so we end up with a seven hour engagement, and effectively the war had started, the trigger had been well and truly pulled, and Carlo hoped to ride the wave of war all the way to Milan.
Florence continued to play the two faced game – claiming that Carlo and Hawkwood had acted entirely on their own initiative. Secretly they were sending instructions to their commanders sharing intelligence from their spies in Siena; Siena they reported, was in a bad way
Siena is in bad shape they have great famine and lack both flour and bread
So obviously this is no time for friendship and sharing resources for the common good, this is a great opportunity to give them a thorough kicking when they were down. Hawkwood obliged, robbing and pillaging Sienese lands.
On September 1389 Siena, clearly unable to defend itself adequately, placed itself publicly under the protection of Milan. Pisa got involved and brokered talks; and possibly surprisingly, in October 1389 an agreement was reached between Florence and Milan; Milan agreed not to extend its influence south of Modena, and Florence promised the reverse in Lombardy. Milan asked Florence to get rid of Hawkwood specifically, which is interesting; such is the reputation of the lad from swampy Essex in Europe’s cultural and economic heartland.
But look no one was happy. Siena didn’t really want peace; it was at a towering disadvantage against Florence, what it wanted was for Milan to come down in all its power and crush its neighbour, please if you wouldn’t mind. Florence just didn’t believe Milan’s promises; though honestly how it could accuse Milan of bad faith is a little beyond me – given that the very day after the pact was signed, it made agreements for a league with Bologna, Pisa, Lucca and Perugia.
The agreement held for a while actually; so much so that Hawkwood was able to go off adventuring in the south, in the kingdom of Naples again. But conflict remained, and it came to be focussed over control of the town of Montepulciano, one of the numberless beautiful Tuscan hill towns, and the wine is thoroughly decent to boot. Anyway, Montepulciano had profited from its position of trade routes but as Florentine influence extended southwards through its acquisition of Arezzo, it was now the focus of a struggle for influence between Siena and Florence; Montepulciano would need to choose a protector; and in 1390, it chose the rising star, Florence. The Council at Montepulciano declared that Montepulciano had sought and been granted the protection of Florence. For Gian Galeazzo this was a contravention of the spirit of the October 1389 agreement; it might not be northwards, but it was an extension of influence into the face of its ally, Siena. So in April, Gian Galeazzo declared war on Florence.
Hawkwood was in Rome when this happened, which seems careless of the Council. The whole city of Florence was desperate for the return of their captain and protector, and messengers went out to find him and order him home. Hawkwood had to make his way north without being blocked by one of Gian Galeazzo’s allies – so he expelled a chaff cloud of misinformation, asking for safe passage for his band from towns and cities through whose region he had no intention of passing, and taking the back passes to avoid interception.
His cunning plan worked. On 27th April he re-entered Florence with 150 horse and 300 infantry – and Florence went potty. The chronicler there wrote:
The people rejoiced because he was the best leader of men who was then in Italy and all the men at arms had fear of his wise counsels and measures
On the 30th April, Florence received another visitor – this time from Siena. The Messenger brought with him a present – a bloody glove of challenge, effectively a declaration of war. The great struggle was about to begin.