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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
A Fifteenth-Century Soldier: Francesco Carmagnola
By Jean Charles Léonard Simonde de Sismondi (1773–1842)
 
From ‘A History of the Italian Republics’

AN ILLUSTRIOUS fugitive, Francesco Carmagnola, who arrived about this time [1425–26] at Venice, accomplished what Florence had nearly failed in, by discovering to the Venetians the project of the Duke of Milan to subjugate them. Francesco Carmagnola had, by the victories he had gained, the glory he had acquired, and the influence he obtained over the soldiers, excited the jealousy, instead of the gratitude, of Filippo Maria; who disgraced him and deprived him of his employment, without assigning any reason. Carmagnola returned to court, but could not even obtain an interview with his master. He retired to his native country, Piedmont; his wife and children were arrested, and his goods confiscated. He arrived at last, by way of Germany, at Venice; soon afterward some emissaries of the Duke of Milan were arrested for an attempt to poison him. The doge, Francesco Foscari, wishing to give lustre to his reign by conquest, persuaded the Senate of Venice to oppose the increasing ambition of the Duke of Milan. A league formed between Florence and Venice was successively joined by the Marquis of Ferrara, the lord of Mantua, the Siennese, Duke Amadeus VIII. of Savoy, and King Alphonso of Naples, who jointly declared war against Filippo Maria Visconti on the 27th of January, 1426. Carmagnola was charged to raise an army of 16,000 cuirassiers and 8,000 infantry in the States of Mantua.  1
  The good fortune of Carmagnola in war still attended him in the campaign of 1426. He was as successful against the Duke of Milan as he had been for him: he took from him the city and the whole province of Brescia. The duke ceded this conquest to the Venetians by treaty on the 30th of December; but he employed the winter in assembling his forces, and in the beginning of spring renewed the war. He equipped a considerable fleet on the Po, in order to take possession of the States of Mantua and Ferrara, the allies of the two republics. This fleet was attacked by the Venetians, and after an obstinate battle, burnt near Cremona on the 21st of May, 1427. The Duke of Milan had given the command of his army to Nicolo Piccinino, the pupil of Braccio, who had brought with him the flower of the Bracceschi army. Nicolo attacked Carmagnola on the 12th of July, at Casalsecco; but the heat was so intense, and the dust rose in such clouds from under the horses’ feet, that the two armies, enveloped in nearly the darkness of night, could no longer distinguish each other, or discern the signals: they separated without claiming advantage on either side. A third battle took place on the 11th of October, 1427, in a marsh near Macalo; Carmagnola here completely defeated the Milanese army, commanded by Carlo Malatesta, and comprising Francesco Sforza, Nicolo Piccinino, and all the most illustrious captains of Italy. By an imprudent generosity, Carmagnola released these important prisoners; and thus provoked the resentment of the procurators of St. Mark, who accompanied him. A new peace, signed on the 18th of April, 1428, again suspended hostilities without reconciling the parties, or inspiring the belligerents with any mutual confidence. The Florentines took advantage of this interval of repose to attack Paulo Guinigi, lord of Lucca, whose alliance with the Duke of Milan had irritated them, although he had afterwards been abandoned by Filippo Maria. The Lucchese, profiting by this last circumstance, revolted against their lord in September, deposed him, and sent him prisoner to Milan. The Florentines were afterwards driven out of the States of Lucca by Nicolo Piccinino, who defeated them on the borders of the Serchio on the 2d of December, 1430; and the general war recommenced.  2
  In this last campaign, fortune abandoned Carmagnola. On the 17th of May, 1431, he suffered himself to be surprised at Soncino, which he had reached with his advanced guard, by Francesco Sforza, who took prisoners 1,600 of his cavalry; he, however, escaped and rejoined his still brilliant army. On the 23d of May he approached the Po, to second the Venetian fleet in an attack on Cremona; but the fleet, pushed by that of the Milanese on the opposite shore, was destroyed in his presence, without the possibility of his rendering it any aid. However great his desire to repair these checks, he could not meet the enemy again during the remainder of the summer. A deadly distemper broke out among the horses throughout Italy; his troops were dismounted: and as the fate of battle depended almost entirely on the cavalry, this calamity reduced him to complete inaction.  3
  The Senate of Venice, which made it a rule never to defend the republic but by foreign arms,—never to enlist its citizens under its banners either as generals or soldiers,—further observed that of governing with extreme rigor those foreign adventurers of whom its armies were composed, and of never believing in the virtue of men who trafficked in their own blood. The Venetians distrusted them; they supposed them ever disposed to treachery: and if they were unfortunate, though only from imprudence, they rendered them responsible. The condottieri were made fully to understand that they were not to lose the armies of the republic without answering for the event with their lives. The Senate joined to this rigor the perfidy and mystery which characterize an aristocracy. Having decided on punishing Carmagnola for the late disasters, it began by deceiving him. He was loaded with marks of deference and confidence; he was invited to come to Venice in the month of April, 1432, to fix with the signoria the plan of the ensuing campaign. The most distinguished senators went to meet him, and conduct him in pomp to the palace of the doge. Carmagnola, introduced into the Senate, was placed in the chair of honor; he was pressed to speak; his discourse was applauded. The day began to close; lights were not yet called for, but the general could no longer distinguish the faces of those who surrounded him: when suddenly the sbirri, or soldiers of police, threw themselves on him, loaded him with chains, and dragged him to the prison of the palace. He was next day put to the torture,—rendered still more painful by the wounds which he had received in the service of this ungrateful republic. Both the accusations made against him, and his answers to the questions, are buried in the profound secrecy with which the Venetian Senate covered all its acts. On the 5th of May, 1432, Francesco Carmagnola, twenty days after his arrest, was led out,—his mouth gagged to prevent any protestation of innocence,—and placed between the two columns on the square of St. Mark: he was there beheaded, amidst a trembling people, whom the Senate of Venice was resolved to govern only by terror.  4
 
 
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