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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
The Conspiracy against Carlo Galeazzo, Duke of Milan, 1476
By Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527)
 
From the ‘History of Florence’

WHILST the transactions between the King and the Pope were in progress, and those in Tuscany, in the manner we have related, an event of greater importance occurred in Lombardy. Cola Montana, a learned and ambitious man, taught the Latin language to the youth of the principal families in Milan. Either out of hatred to the character and manners of the duke, or from some other cause, he constantly deprecated the condition of those who live under a bad prince; calling those glorious and happy who had the good fortune to be born and live in a republic. He endeavored to show that the most celebrated men had been produced in republics, and not reared under princes; that the former cherish virtue, whilst the latter destroy it; the one deriving advantage from virtuous men, whilst the latter naturally fear them. The youths with whom he was most intimate were Giovanni Andrea Lampognano, Carlo Visconti, and Girolamo Olgiato. He frequently discussed with them the faults of their prince, and the wretched condition of those who were subject to him; and by constantly inculcating his principles, acquired such an ascendency over their minds as to induce them to bind themselves by oath to effect the duke’s destruction, as soon as they became old enough to attempt it. Their minds being fully occupied with this design, which grew with their years, the duke’s conduct and their own private injuries served to hasten its execution. Galeazzo was licentious and cruel; of both which vices he had given such repeated proofs that he became odious to all…. These private injuries increased the young men’s desire for vengeance, and the deliverance of their country from so many evils; trusting that whenever they should succeed in destroying the duke, many of the nobility and all the people would rise in their defense. Being resolved upon their undertaking, they were often together; which, on account of their long intimacy, did not excite any suspicion. They frequently discussed the subject; and in order to familiarize their minds with the deed itself, they practiced striking each other in the breast and in the side with the sheathed daggers intended to be used for the purpose. On considering the most suitable time and place, the castle seemed insecure; during the chase, uncertain and dangerous; whilst going about the city for his own amusement, difficult if not impracticable; and at a banquet, of doubtful result. They therefore determined to kill him upon the occasion of some procession or public festivity, when there would be no doubt of his presence, and where they might under various pretexts assemble their friends. It was also resolved that if one of their number were prevented from attending, on any account whatever, the rest should put him to death in the midst of their armed enemies.  1
  It was now the close of the year 1476,—near Christmas; and as it was customary for the duke to go upon St. Stephen’s day, in great solemnity, to the church of that martyr, they considered this the most suitable opportunity for the execution of their design. Upon the morning of that day they ordered some of their most trusty friends and servants to arm, telling them they wished to go to the assistance of Giovanandrea, who, contrary to the wish of some of his neighbors, intended to turn a water-course into his estate; but that before they went they wished to take leave of the prince. They also assembled, under various pretenses, other friends and relatives; trusting that when the deed was accomplished, every one would join them in the completion of their enterprise. It was their intention, after the duke’s death, to collect their followers together and proceed to those parts of the city where they imagined the plebeians would be most disposed to take arms against the duchess and the principal ministers of State: and they thought the people, on account of the famine which then prevailed, would easily be induced to follow them; for it was their design to give up the houses of Cecco Simonetta, Giovanni Botti, and Francesco Lucani,—all leading men in the government,—to be plundered, and by this means gain over the populace and restore liberty to the community. With these ideas, and with minds resolved upon their execution, Giovanandrea and the rest were early at the church, and heard mass together; after which Giovanandrea, turning to a statue of St. Ambrose, said, “O patron of our city! thou knowest our intention, and the end we would attain by so many dangers: favor our enterprise, and prove, by protecting the oppressed, that tyranny is offensive to thee.”  2
  To the duke, on the other hand, when intending to go to the church, many omens occurred of his approaching death; for in the morning, having put on a cuirass, as was his frequent custom, he immediately took it off again, either because it inconvenienced him or that he did not like its appearance. He then wished to hear mass in the castle; but found that the priest who officiated in the chapel had gone to St. Stephen’s, and taken with him the sacred utensils. On this he desired the service to be performed by the Bishop of Como, who acquainted him with preventing circumstances. Thus, almost compelled, he determined to go to the church; but before his departure he caused his sons, Giovan Galeazzo and Ermes, to be brought to him, and embraced and kissed them several times, seeming reluctant to part with them. He then left the castle, and with the ambassadors of Ferrara and Mantua on either hand, proceeded to St. Stephen’s.  3
  The conspirators, to avoid exciting suspicion, and to escape the cold, which was very severe, had withdrawn to an apartment of the arch-priest, who was a friend of theirs; but hearing the duke’s approach, they came into the church, Giovanandrea and Girolamo placing themselves upon the right hand of the entrance and Carlo on the left. Those who led the procession had already entered, and were followed by the duke, surrounded by such a multitude as is usual on similar occasions. The first attack was made by Lampognano and Girolamo; who, pretending to clear the way for the prince, came close to him, and grasping their daggers, which being short and sharp were concealed in the sleeves of their vests, struck at him. Lampognano gave him two wounds, one in the belly, the other in the throat. Girolamo struck him in the throat and breast. Carlo Visconti, being nearer the door, and the duke having passed, could not wound him in front; but with two strokes transpierced his shoulder and spine. These six wounds were inflicted so instantaneously that the duke had fallen before any one was aware of what had happened; and he expired, having only once ejaculated the name of the Virgin, as if imploring her assistance.  4
  A great tumult immediately ensued; several swords were drawn; and as often happens in sudden emergencies, some fled from the church and others ran towards the scene of tumult, both without any definite motive or knowledge of what had occurred. Those, however, who were nearest the duke and had seen him slain, recognizing the murderers, pursued them. Giovanandrea, endeavoring to make his way out of the church, had to pass among the women, who being numerous, and according to their custom seated upon the ground, impeded his progress by their apparel; and being overtaken, he was killed by a Moor, one of the duke’s footmen. Carlo was slain by those who were immediately around him. Girolamo Olgiato passed through the crowd, and got out of the church; but seeing his companions dead, and not knowing where else to go, he went home, where his father and brothers refused to receive him; his mother only, having compassion on her son, recommended him to a priest, an old friend of the family, who, disguising him in his own apparel, led him to his house. Here he remained two days, not without hope that some disturbance might arise in Milan which would contribute to his safety. This not occurring, and apprehensive that his hiding-place would be discovered, he endeavored to escape in disguise; but being observed, he was given over to justice, and disclosed all the particulars of the conspiracy. Girolamo was twenty-three years of age, and exhibited no less composure at his death than resolution in his previous conduct; for being stripped of his garments, and in the hands of the executioner, who stood by with the sword unsheathed ready to deprive him of life, he repeated the following words in the Latin tongue, in which he was well versed: “Mors acerba, fama perpetua, stabit vetus memoria facti.” 1  5
  The enterprise of these unfortunate young men was conducted with secrecy and executed with resolution; and they failed for want of the support of those whom they expected to rise in their defense. Let princes therefore learn to live so as to render themselves beloved and respected by their subjects, that none may have hope of safety after having destroyed them; and let others see how vain is the expectation which induces them to trust so much to the multitude as to believe that even when discontented, they will either embrace their cause or ward off their dangers. This event spread consternation all over Italy; but those which shortly afterwards occurred in Florence caused much more alarm, and terminated a peace of twelve years’ continuance. Having commenced with blood and horror, they will have a melancholy and tearful conclusion.  6
 
Note 1. “Death is bitter, but fame is eternal, and the memory of this deed shall long endure.” [back]
 
 
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