The Conspiracy of Gianluigi Fieschi - Emanuele Celesia - ebook

The first impression of the general reader may be that this book treats of events so distant in time, and so different in moral scenery, from the political and social conditions in which we live as to afford little or no instruction to us. No history, except that of one’s own country, affords precise forms in which to mould the present; and what are called historical parallels do not really exist, since every series of political events has peculiar elements which make close analogies with any other series impossible. Those who quote events in the history of other times and peoples as containing precise instruction for present national action usually deceive their auditors all the more completely from being deceived themselves. It is only in the abundant matter of general principles that history contains lessons of political wisdom. In this sense the work before the reader is not without valuable instruction. M. Celesia has given us a view of the social and political condition of the masses who have too often been excluded from history because they had been excluded from power in the state.We see, in fact, some painful scenes of that long tragedy which ended in the disfranchisement of the Italians, in the very period when most other European nations were making the bases of their institutions broader by enlarging the liberties of their peoples; and we see clearly that two vast despotisms—one reposing on a fiction of the continued life of the Roman Empire and the other on a perversion of the principle of Christian Authority—conspiring now together, now against each other, bewildered the intellect and destroyed the political vitality of Italy, gradually reducing her to a mere geographical expression. The people struggled in vain, partly because they struggled blindly, partly because a pernicious error placed them in exceptional conditions by stripping them of a part of their rights avowedly in the interest of humanity at large. So far this struggle was peculiar in form; but at bottom it was a struggle for popular rights, and its disastrous close is here shown to have been due to no fault of the people themselves. It is just here that less than justice has been done to the Italians, and this work well illustrates the stupendous falsehood which slew them.Our interest in this error might be less if it were dead; but it lives and embarasses the Italians of our own day. We have just been gravely informed by a French statesmen that Rome does not belong to Italy, but to the whole catholic world; and the statement is a key not only to current Italian difficulties but also to the failure of the nation to keep pace with the rest of Europe in the sixteenth century. Then, more than now, other nations conceived themselves to have a mission to preserve institutions which Italy was disposed to condemn and abolish. Then a larger number of Italians than now were bewildered by the legal or historical claim set up for a dead Empire and a Christian Church founded upon force, and in their bewilderment went over to their enemies. But below all this, a brave people struck manful blows for their salvation, and when they fell were suffocated with the terrible doctrine that Italy does not belong to herself. The statement of Count Persigny was and is, in its political significance, when applied to Italian politics, exactly like a declaration that London does not belong to England or Paris to France.

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or, Genoa in the Sixteenth Century

Emanuele Celesia


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It would be difficult to find in the history of the sixteenth century a name more fiercely assailed than that of Gianluigi Fieschi. From Bonfadio down to the most recent historians, the Count of Lavagna has received the same treatment at the hands of our writers which the learned vulgar are accustomed to give to Catiline. This levity of judgment is a new proof that history is too high a pursuit for servile minds.

The classic invectives of Cicero and the glittering falsehoods of Sallust, both written with masterly eloquence, and their echo taken up by inferior writers have disfigured the manly form of Sergius, and his cause, supported by the most generous and cultivated Romans, has come down to us described as the base plot of abandoned men.

Catiline could not have been base. He was illustrious by birth, well-known for his talents and powerful on account of his numerous dependants and friends. He stood on the last round of the ladder leading to the consulship and was supported by knights and senators; by Antonius Geta, Lentulus, Cethegus and even by Cæsar who was no stranger to the conspiracy. Crassus favoured him, though he afterwards turned informer against the conspirators. Entire colonies and Municipalities supported him. In upper Spain, Gneus Piso, in Mauritania, Publius Sittius Nucerinus and the legions were his partisans; in fine, he was the head of all the reformers of Italy and Gaul.

I do not excuse his violence, his disorderly life and his vices; though we know of these only through his enemies. But his aims were unquestionably high and noble. Roman liberty was buried in his tomb and not even the dagger of Junius Brutus could recall her to life. I hold it incontestable that the movement, far from being a plot of reckless men, was general and spontaneous towards that freedom which Lucius Sylla had extinguished in blood; a movement for which there was crying urgency in Italy, where crowds of slaves were supplanting the Latin races, and throughout the dominions of the Republic. In vain have cunning rhetoricians taught us to execrate the name of the great Roman, the last of the Tribunes. He has left for history a page written with his own blood which is more lasting than all envy. It shows us one who fell dead on the same ground where he steadfastly fought, displaying in his last hour an heroism which is inconsistent with the crimes coupled with his name.

Cicero himself tells us that the friendship of Catiline had such fascinations that he had barely escaped its influence. It may be true that his pallid face, his fierce eyes and his nervous step, now quick, now slow, terrified the publicans and patricians of Rome; but none can believe that he butchered his own son, immolated victims to the silver eagle of Marius, or handed round in nocturnal conventicles a cup full of foaming blood. Catiline was a bad man because he was vanquished; but Salvator Rosa, the soldier and painter of Masaniello, when he drew Catiline as a stern and magnanimous man did not believe him a low plotter, and the great captain of our century declared that he preferred the part of the great Latin conspirator to that of the versatile Tully.

The character of the Count of Lavagna has been depicted in similar colours by servile writers skilful in inventing calumnies. Catiline and Fieschi had the same ambition and a common aim. The former, in his familiar letters to Lentulus which were published in the Senate, declared that no venal ambition led him to make war. He said that his estates were security for his debts and that the liberality and wealth of Orestilla and his daughter would provide for any deficiency. He averred, he was impelled by wrongs and slanders, that he made the cause of the unfortunate his own, because he was defrauded of the fruit of his labours, and, while he was falsely suspected, was forced to see base men taking his place.

The same is true of Fieschi, whose death, Gianettino Doria had sworn. In Genoa, not less than in Rome, a partisan contest between the nobles and the people had lasted for centuries. Here, after the civil conflagrations, as after the scourgings of Rome by Marius and Sylla, liberty gradually expired. In both Republics, the people were bowed down by the insolence of the great. They were deprived of all share in the government, and corrupt ambition had unbounded sway. In Liguria, Andrea Doria had completed the triumph of the party of the nobles and imperialists and the ruin of popular liberty. Though he forbore to assume a princely title, he was a true king in authority, his nephew aspired to regal honours, and every popular right was trampled down by the Spanish power. According to Bonfadio this subjection was too bitter for the great soul of the Count Lavagna long to endure the humiliation. But his enemies wrote, and by a thousand channels circulated, the most incredible things as parts of his designs:—That he attempted by base intrigues to ruin the Republic, that he aimed to seduce it to servitude to his family or to France, to exterminate the Doria family, to lay bloody and felonious hands on the bank of St. George, to put the city to fire and sack. The decrees and official reports of the Republic do not warrant such statements, and a theory more honourable to him is justified by the gentleness of his character, by the Guelph traditions of his house, by the fact that he prevented the murder of Doria, in his palace, and by the conspiracy itself, the fury of which was directed against the ships of Doria, sparing those of the Republic.

It was necessary for Doria that black designs should be attributed to Fieschi, otherwise his fearful vengeance would have been unjustifiable. The slander was profitable also to the Spanish Cæsar, for it took away from his path a powerful family opposed to the Aragonese power in Italy. And as matter of fact, these idle tales, written in Genoa and diffused in France and Spain, were never believed among us. The greater part of the patricians did not credit them for they were Fieschi’s friends and would have saved him if the overbearing spirit of Doria had not imposed his will upon the senate. Such slanders found no credit with the people, who placed their love upon that philanthropic family and perpetuated its memory in national songs.

Catiline and Fieschi intended to awaken in their native lands the love of expiring liberty, and in that aim they had the support of many nobles and of the people. The pride of Roman patricians could bend to an alliance with the people, but they scorned to share their rights with foreign slaves. The Count of Lavagna grasped the hand of the people, but he refused the alliance of France. This fact testifies for both to the honesty of their designs; for to a traitor all paths are good so they but lead to his end.

Catiline, slandered by Cicero upon the rostrum, fulminates in his turn against his detractor, and though he quits Rome unattended, his exit is imposing and momentous. Fieschi, bending to the necessities of his time, found more quiet and secret paths to his end; and when accused by the minister of Cæsar with seeking to foment a revolution, he confronted Andrea Doria with a frankness which eluded the Admiral’s keen vigilance. From the blood of Catiline sprung the dictatorship of Cæsar; from that of Fieschi, the oligarchic government and the Spanish dominion in Genoa.

Doria, becoming the supporter and partisan of Charles V. and Phillip II. prevented Genoa from entering into the league of the Italian Republics against the Spanish yoke. Genoa, united to the enemies of Florence and Siena in the time of those memorable sieges, allied with the enemies of Naples when that people was rising for liberty, the friend of all the enemies of Italy, dates from that period her unfortunate decline. The movement of Fieschi, if he had accepted the alliance of France, might have averted the catastrophe. The French and Republican league might have extirpated the Spanish power in the Peninsula, and saved Italy from forging her own chains. It might have spared Genoa her struggles with the Barbary states, the revolt of the Corsicans, the decline of her commerce with the East and the most disastrous of all her civil tumults.

The Genoese people struggled long against that fatal alliance, cemented with their blood, which Fieschi strove to break. They left no means untried to dissolve it, using now supplication, now the sword and the scaffold. And for more than two centuries, a half subdued populace never grew weary of pouring its indignant complaints into the ear of the nobility. I have compared Catiline and Fieschi. The resemblance has not escaped historians. But their works and discourses have been reported, and judged by their enemies and by the faction which they strove to displace from power. The name of Count Fieschi waits to be rehabilitated by time which cancels great wrongs, impartially dispenses praise and blame, and gives each man that place in the esteem of posterity which his works merit.

From the earliest times our country was lacerated by two hostile factions. There were annalists and writers who recorded and magnified the exploits of those belonging to their party and silently passed over the praiseworthy actions of their political opponents. Procopius and Iornandes represent the two creeds which in their time were contending for the support of the nation. Anastaius is the biographer of the Popes, as Paul Diacono is of the Longobardic kings. In every province there were Malaspini and Dino Compagni, imperialists, fighting against the Guelph and Republican spirit of the three Villani. From the union of these hostile elements come forth the critical historian of the nation—Macchiavelli. But when the Germanic irruption cut the nerves of the Latin traditions, when Charles V. and Andrea Doria reestablished the foreign power in Italy, the Guelph spirit was silenced, the Journal killed, the Chronicle and official falsehoods so misrepresented events as to render history nearly impossible. John Mark Burigozzo, a Lombard shopkeeper, was the last annalist who recorded the sorrows of the people. Then came classic, courtly and salaried historians—history written by the victors. There is need of great caution in reading the verdict of a history written with the sword. “Woe to the vanquished” in history as on the battle-field. Corrupt ages praise successful crimes, and it is only by great effort that after times emancipate themselves from these servile adulations. There is a coward instinct in man which prompts him to applaud force and despise the fallen. The conscientious historian should enter his free protest against such dishonourable acquiescence in forced verdicts. It is time that history should be relieved from the tyranny of eloquent but mendacious tongues, and many powerful ones should be deposed from ill-gotten thrones. It is time to ask of many who have been called heroes what use they made of their swords and how they served Italy, and to concede—the supreme right of misfortune—a tardy tribute of regret to one who fell victim to a high and generous purpose.

What is the verdict recorded against Fieschi?

Among the writers who were his contemporaries stand foremost, Bonfadio, Campanaceo, Sigonio, Capelloni, Foglietta, Mascardi and Casoni. I do not mention foreigners, first among whom are Tuano and the Cardinal de Retz. I omit, too, the modern writers, since they have all followed with the assiduity of copyists the earlier historians, making no effort to study the public archives or even to criticise the text which they copied. Nevertheless, it is important to give the reader some account of the historians of that epoch; since the first duty of one who attempts to describe past events is to employ criticism in its widest sense, and so to separate the true from the false. Nor can this be done without carefully weighing the credibility of authors who have gone this way before us and taking account of the passions which governed them when they wrote.

The first historian of Fieschi was Bonfadio who was employed by the senate to write the annals of the Republic. He was a witness of the events which he described and on the very night of the rising, he went to the senate in company with Giovanni Battista Grimaldi. Yet we can yield him little faith; since, writing at the command of the government, he could not do less than speak harshly of the government’s enemies. He confesses that he had not in his hands the records of the conspirators’ trial. He ignores many facts, and never names the accomplices of Fieschi, scarcely suspecting that there were any. Having a mania for classic imitation, and borne away by the current of his times, he depicts Gianluigi as a man thirsting for base deeds and for blood; so, that if his immortal pages served to render the memory of Fieschi odious at a time when men had little concern for the honour of the vanquished, they are certainly too careless and too partial to satisfy the future. The unfortunate author, who was truthful in all other matters and failed in this only, because it treated of a plot against the powerful Doria, reaped bitter fruits for his great bias against Fieschi.

Not less unjust was Giuseppe Mario Campanaceo, who added to his history of the conspiracy a comparison between it and that of Catiline. “Both,” he says, “sprung from noble stock. Both were crushed under the ruin they plotted for others. In the one, a fierce look, a sanguinary countenance; in the other, a singular beauty and a virginal candour. The Roman was stained with bloody and licentious deeds; the Genoese bore the fame of goodness of heart and grace of manners. The Roman was verging towards age; the Genoese was in the freshness of his youth, yet he surpassed the conspirator of the Tiber as much in deceitfulness as Catiline excelled him in warlike exploits.”

If on minor points the narration of this writer is more accurate, it still bears the seal of the degraded time in which it was written. Though the author professes to have taken great pains to discover the truth, having spent a long time in Genoa for that purpose, it is very easy to see that he did not escape the contagion of party feeling and of the malevolence of the faction then dominant in Liguria. It is not strange, therefore, that he finds a mean and avaricious spirit in Gianluigi, while he describes Gianettino as an illustrious victim, rather, as the most virtuous knight of all Christendom.

Carlo Sigonio, in his life of Andrea Doria, and, among Genoese writers, Oberto Foglietto have treated the matter with elegance of diction but with unblushing plagiarism.

The same may be said of Lorenzo Capelloni, who described the conspiracy of Fieschi in a report to Charles V. He was too devoted to Cæsar, and to Doria, whose life he wrote, not to imitate the others whom we have mentioned in treating the attempt of Fieschi as a plot of like character with that of Cybo which he also described.

Agostino Mascardi, who was more of a rhetorician than an historian, tells us nothing new. Casoni was less devoted to the Spanish power and therefore more humane towards Fieschi, but he adopted without question the opinion professed by the party in power who never opened the archives of the state for the study of the historian.

We therefore conclude that a prudent and impartial criticism forbids us to give full faith to those who have given to Count Fieschi a dishonourable place in history.

In our opinion two qualifications are essential to the historian:—That he be able to collect the most accurate accounts of the facts, and that party spirit do not cloud the serenity of his mind. The writers whom we have mentioned lack these credentials. In fact, after studying the annals of the sixteenth century, we are satisfied that most of them were ignorant of the true causes of events. Sometimes they knew only a part of the facts; sometimes, acting under the influence of personal or political jealousy, they betrayed the truth by silence, by misrepresentation or by additions of what would serve their own purposes or the wishes of their masters.

The reader must judge whether we have truly balanced the account.

We see, from what has been said, that it was impossible Fieschi should have had truthful historians in the provinces ruled by Charles V. It was not to be expected in Genoa, where the supreme authority of the Dorias compelled even the least servile writers to the most skilful management of conscience and speech.

Neither in Tuscany, where the seeds of the Medicean tyranny were already springing up; not in Lombardy, which was the battle-ground of the two opposing factions; not in the kingdom of Naples tossed like a foot-ball from one master to another, but at the moment in the grasp of Cæsar. Finally, not in Rome where the Spanish government, in its war to the death upon the spirit of civil and religious liberty, found a swift accomplice in the Papal court which employed the zeal and devotion of its inquisitors in consigning to the flames both books and their authors. It is enough that no writer in Italy was permitted to answer the blind devotee of Rome, Baronius.

A few noble spirits arose to tell the truth of the Austro-Spanish power; such as Bandello, Ariosto, Boccalini and Tassoni; nevertheless in the period between Charles V. and the middle of the 17th century no true light of history shone on the Peninsula.

Learned and literary men lived in the courts, then the only dispensers of fame, and writers were more valued for their promptness in serving masters than for their mental acquirements. Even the best writers exhausted their ambition in the chase for courtly favour. It is not true that the protection of princes was useful to letters and arts; it only seduced them from the path of duty. Truth was banished from books because it displeased our masters, and history was sure to be smothered if it contained more than panegyric. Spanish wordiness had corrupted liberal studies and Italians were no longer honestly indignant against the oppressors of their country. They descended from employing their imaginations in intellectual creations to pandering to the senses. Literary entertainments, like falcons and buffoons, served for the sport of courtiers, as an instrument of corruption rather than a stimulant to generous pursuits. Intellect being thus prostrated, Fieschi could find no historian courageous enough to clear away the falsehoods that blackened his fame and constrain his calumniators to an honest confession. Cybo, Farnese, and whoever else, following the footsteps of Fieschi, opposed at the price of their lives Spanish influence, shared the historical misfortune of the Count of Lavagna.

It was necessary, then, to rewrite this history and I resolved to attempt the task. There are subjects (and the conspiracy of Fieschi is one of them) which seen from a distance fill us with apprehension, but when we approach and handle them, the alarm which possessed us generally disappears. I approached my subject with honest boldness and having studied it intimately, I have dared to rebel against the common opinion of the learned. If it were necessary to quote all the authorities for a conviction so opposed to the current of corrupted history the list would be too long. I, therefore appeal to the cultivated who will, I hope, bear me witness that very little within the range of the subject has escaped my notice. I ought, however, to remark that the Archives of Madrid and Paris have furnished me with foreign notices of the revolts of Fieschi and his partisans, and that more perfect information has been obtained from the Archives of Genoa, Florence, Parma, Massa and Carrara, and from some codexes and manuscripts which once belonged to Cardinal Adriano Fieschi (the last of the Savignone branch of the Fieschi family) whose heir, Count Alessandro Negri di S. Front, kindly permitted me to consult them at my pleasure. I render him my most hearty thanks. I have drawn other materials from the writings of the sacred college of Padua in favour of the Republic and the pleadings of the famous jurists who sustained the Fieschi party. Many other notices have been taken from private libraries in Genoa, which are at once so numerous and so difficult of access. Some documents very favourable to the cause of Fieschi were recently published by the erudite Bernardo Brea, but the greater part of them were already familiar to me; for the history which I now send to the press was written several years ago—a proof of which is that many extracts from it were then published in the journals. It is hardly worth while to dwell upon the reasons which kept me from publishing the work: The times were not, and are not, propitious to historic studies; yet I am forced in my own despite to bring my manuscript to light, lest I be accused of treading in the footsteps of a great author who has recently removed many a stain from the name of Fieschi and lashed his detractors with the severest condemnation.

A modest cultivator of peaceful studies, I do not fear that any will suspect me of aiming to destroy the reverence due to a great name; or that I shall receive the sentence pronounced by Richelieu, who, on reading the conspiracy of Fieschi written by Cardinal de Retz in his youth, prophesied that the author would develop a turbulent and revolutionary spirit.

My humble condition and the honesty of my intentions render me safe from similar vacticinations. Though in my opinions upon the conspiracy I depart from the paths beaten by other writers, it is not without adequate reasons. I feel that the religion of truth, has had hitherto too few worshippers, that reverence for the unfortunate great of Italy has been long put under ban, and do not hesitate to say that if what I shall dare to write was not unknown by others it was most certainly concealed. What were the aims of Fieschi? What of Andrea Doria? Whither tended the uprising of the people? Who breathed life into the cause of national independence? To these questions, so far as I know, no one has yet made a sufficient answer; and, indeed, how can one write of Fieschi and Doria without investigating their personal motives, prying into the secrets of their hearts? Our historians, copying each other and compressing the tragedy of a century into a few pages, have given us only the conspiracy and the uprising, that is the least philosophic moment. For us, history begins where the strife ends. The designs which animate the combatants do not die with them, and they expand into the most interesting questions. Let the writer who does not feel the greatness of his mission shun these questions, I prefer that the reader shall not believe me a timorous friend of truth.

If once terror chained men’s souls, if great names could not be discussed, to-day, delivered from the febrile excitements of our predecessors, we may freely praise and blame the men and deeds of three centuries ago.

Nor is this all. A general history of Italy remains to be written, and the materials are scattered in the archives of our communes. Italy will write it when she shall have secured independence and a true national unity. In the meantime, mindful of the saying of Vico that, “we ought to seek for minute notices of facts and their antecedents rather than general causes and events, since by an accurate study of the facts themselves it becomes easy to find the causes and to clear up effects which often seem incredible to us,” I have devoted my utmost strength to removing a portion of that veil which covers the name of Fieschi, happy if I am able in this effort to correct some erroneous opinions and to prepare matter for the future historian of the nation.


THE VALLEY OF ENTELLA and Lavagna—The Origin of the Counts of Fieschi—Their Conflicts with the Commune of Genoa—The Treaty of Peace between the Fieschi and Genoa—Civil Contentions—The Riches and Power of the Counts Fieschi—Innocent IV. and Hadrian V.—Cardinal Gianluigi Fieschi—The Fieschi Bishops and Lords of Vercelli and Biella—Famous Fieschi Warriors—Isabella, wife of Lucchino Visconti—St. Catherine—The Arms of the Family—Liberality and munificence of the Fieschi—Gianluigi II.—Sinibaldo, lord of thirty-three walled castles.

That portion of Eastern Liguria, where, according to Dante,

“Fra Siestri e Chiavari

S’adima la bella fiumana,”

retains in our day but little resemblance to the ancient seat of the Counts of Lavagna. Instead of forts and castles crowning every gentle elevation, the modern tourist finds a church dedicated to St. Stephen, and his eye wanders over hills, swelling above each other towards the encircling mountains and covered with olive gardens and orchards. The din of arms, the clash of maces and shields, is no longer heard; but instead the ear is saluted with the songs of peaceful burghers whose humble ambition finds content in gathering the fruit of the vines, weaving their nets, and drawing from their famous caves that slate which covers all the roofs of Liguria.

The banks of that stream which our ancestors called Entella, and we moderns Lavagna (from the name of the adjacent commune), have preserved, through the changes of centuries, their wonderful charms. It rises in the humble valley of Fontanabuona, is enriched by numerous tributaries from vales on either hand, and slips quietly into the sea after a course of only twenty-four miles.

Some tell us that in ages which have no authentic history the ancient Libarna was here, and that the name was afterwards corrupted into Lavagna; but our modern geographers do not accept the opinion. It is certain that Lavagna became the seat of a count of that name, who, about the year one thousand of our era, ruled over the contiguous districts of Sestri, Zoagli, Rapallo, Varese, and a great part of Chiavari. From this epoch, for many centuries, the history of the whole region was absorbed in that of the great family who ruled that portion of Liguria. The origin of these Counts is lost in mediaeval darkness. Giustiniani, Prierio, Panza, Sansovino, Betussi, and Ciaccone believe that they came of the stock of the Dukes of Bourgogne or of the Princes of Bavaria, and they affirm that the counts were called Flisci, because they watched over the collection of the imperial taxes. On this point nothing can be said with certainty. For our part, remembering that from the time of Otto the Great four powerful families ruled over all Liguria—that is the Counts of Lavagna and Ventimiglia, and the Marquises of Savona and Malaspina—we are led to believe that the Fieschi, like the Estensi, Pallavicini, Malaspina, and many other powerful houses, had a Longobardic derivation. This belief is supported by the fact that the Counts of Lavagna ruled with Longobardic laws, and drew from that nation, their Christian names as Oberto, Ariberto, Valperto, Rubaldo, Sinibaldo, Tebaldo, and others of like formation, which we find on every page of their family records. The Longobards ruled almost a century and a half in Liguria, and it is probable that many families of that nation founded feuds and took firm root with their estates and castles.

It is certain that the first count of the name clearly mentioned in history was a certain Tedisio, son of Oberto, who ruled the county of Lavagna in 992, and who had previously accompanied King Arduinus through all his campaigns. From him descended, in the right line, Rubaldo, Tedisio II., Rubaldo II., Alberto, and Ruffino. In the will of Ruffino (1177) the name Fieschi occurs for the first time. Then followed Ugone and Tedisio III., brother of Pope Innocent IV. It is not our purpose to speak of their genealogy, but we refer the curious reader to works on that subject.

The Counts of Lavagna, at a very early period, enlarged their jurisdiction by acquiring many surrounding castles and feuds. The growth of their power was so rapid that the Genoese people, in the earliest days of the communal system (1008), found it necessary to put a check on the increasing influence of this family. The Genoese attempted to take possession of the castle of Caloso, the first seat of the Fieschi, and then held by Count San Salvatore. The Fieschi anticipated and foiled the movement by pushing forward their conquests so as to include in their dominions Nei, Panesi, Zerli, and Roccamaggiore. This conflict gave rise to long and indecisive struggles, which did not end until the Genoese army, returning from the Romagna in 1133, marched through Lavagna, dismantled its fortresses, and, to secure the obedience of the Counts, fortified Rivarolo, in the very heart of the country. The Counts rallied from the effects of this staggering blow, and, by dint of extraordinary address and courage, recovered their estates and independence.

When Frederick I. besieged Milan, the Fieschi went to his camp to pay him homage, and the Emperor, by royal decree, dated the 1st of September, 1158, invested Count Rubaldo Fieschi with all the ancient lands and rights of his family.

This patent conferred upon the Counts the following territories and privileges:

The waters of Lavagna and the tolls (pedaggio) for the highways along the sea-shore and the road through the mountains; feudatory rights over the men who held allodial properties in the three plebeian hamlets of Lavagna near the sea, Sestri, and Varese; and finally the wood which has the following boundaries—from the Croce di Lambe to Monte Tomar, thence to the bridge of Varvo, lake Fercia and Selvasola, returning to the point of departure at Croce di Lambe.

The Fieschi were thus rendered independent of the republic, and, about 1170, having made a secret treaty with Obizzo Malaspina and the counts of Da Passano, they invested Rapallo, and put Genoa to such straits that she was forced to ask aid of the marquises of Monferrato, Gavi, and Bosco. The soldiers of the allies under the command of Enrico il Guercio, Marquis of Savona, punished the contumacy and audacity of the Fieschi.

Finally, to compress much into few words, the commune of Genoa, on the 25th of June, 1198, made a treaty with the Counts of Lavagna. The latter bound themselves to content their ambition with the possession of Lavagna, Sestri, and Rivarolo, and the commune conferred many honours and privileges on the counts, especially reaffirming the rights conveyed to the family by the Emperor. The Fieschi further pledged themselves never more to draw sword against the city of Genoa or her allies, the Bishop of Bobbio, and the Lords of Gavi, and to become citizens of Genoa. At the time of this treaty Count Martino was the sole head of the whole family, but after his death they separated into many branches. The principal line retained the name Fieschi; the others were called Scorza, Ravaschieri, Della Torre, Casanova, Secchi, Bianchi, Cogorno, and Pinelli.

It is not our intention to speak further of the junior branches. The treaty with Genoa marks the close of the wars between the commune and the Fieschi, and the beginning of our domestic divisions, which for centuries weakened the republic, and compelled the lover of repose to seek it in voluntary exile. Those who adhered to the empire were called Mascherati, and the opposite faction Rampini, headed by Fieschi. It would be a long work and one outside of our purpose to describe the various changes of fortune through which the Counts of Lavagna passed, tossing up and down in the fury of political strife; but it is noteworthy that they always maintained the character of defenders of popular liberty.

When Galeazzo Sforza was in power, they lived at Rome in exile, and their castles were occupied by ducal garrisons; but after the death (1476) of this tyrant, they rushed to arms, assailed the ducal palace in Genoa, and forced Giovanni Pallavicini, governor under Sforza, to take refuge in the fortress of Castelletto. Having made themselves masters of the city, far from assuming supreme powers, they immediately summoned the great parliament of the citizens who elected eight captains of liberty, six of whom were taken from the people and two from the patricians. Giano Giorgio and Matteo Fieschi were placed at the head of the army; but to defend the city from the threatened invasion a spirit of greater force and audacity was needed. The eyes of the people fell upon Obietto Fieschi, who was at Rome a prisoner of Sixtus IV., the ally of Sforza. He eluded the Pope’s vigilance, put himself at the head of his own vassals, and fought long, until, defeated by the imperial forces under Prospero Adorno, he was forced to take shelter in the castles of his county. The fortresses of Pontremoli, Varese, Torriglia, Savignone, and Montobbio were one after the other wrested from him, and he himself was captured and conducted to Milan, where, becoming involved in a plot against the Duchess Bona, he was detained in prison. His brother, Gianluigi, took his place and kept alive the fire of liberty. He routed Giovanni del Conte and Giovanni Pallavicini, in Rapallo, with terrible slaughter. He afterwards entered into negociations, and ceded Torriglia and Roccatagliata to Prospero Adorno.

But the Sforza government had so outraged the Genoese that popular indignation ran high against it, and Prospero Adorno resolved to free himself from his unfortunate alliance, and, to strengthen his new position, sought and obtained the aid of the counts of Lavagna. The Lombard regency sent a splendidly equipped army of more than sixteen thousand men, to compel the rebels to return to their allegiance; but Gianluigi Fieschi assaulted them in flank and rear with such skill and courage that he put them to complete rout. The enemy took refuge in Savignone and Montobbio, but Fieschi refused to listen to terms of accommodation, stormed those strongholds, recovered his feuds, and retained the prisoners as a ransom for Obietto.

The Fieschi may have been restless partisans and promoters of intestine strife, but they were never tyrants. Their broad lands, from which they drew large revenues and considerable armies, enabled them to make war upon a republic already strong in arms, and to snatch victory from the troops of foreign lords. At this period they held in the duchies of Parma and Piacenza the feuds of Calestano, Vigolone, Pontremoli, Valdettaro, Terzogno, Albere, Tizzano, Balone, and a number of smaller castles; in the territory of Lunigiana—Massa, Carrara, Suvero, Calice, Vepulli, Madrignano, Groppoli, Godano, Caranza, and Brugnato; in Valdibubera they were masters of Varzi, Grimiasco, Torriglia, Cantalupo, Pietra, and Savignone; in Piedmont—Vercelli, Masserano, and Crevacore; in Lombardy—Voghera (which Tortona sold to Percival Fieschi in 1303), and Castiglione di Lodi; in Umbria—Mugnano; in the kingdom of Naples—San Valentino; in Liguria, to say nothing of Lavagna, where they coined money before 1294, they possessed more than a hundred boroughs.

It should be added that most of these possessions came into their power by conquest, purchase, or imperial gift before Innocent and Hadrian ascended to the Pontifical throne. Nicolò Fieschi alone, to pass by others of the family, bought seventy castles in Lunigiana from the bishop of Luni and from the lords of Carpena then very powerful. He ceded a great part of these feuds to the Republic, when he took the leadership of the Guelphs and formed alliance with Naples against the Ubertines (1270). This was the origin of long and bitter contests which finally ended in a treaty of peace and the absolution of Genoa from the interdict hurled against her by Pope Gregory at the instance of Cardinal Fieschi, whose lands the Republic had seized. The convention provided for the cession of a great part of the Cardinal’s feuds to Genoa (1276). We believe there is no other family which counts in its registers two Popes, seventy-two Cardinals and three-hundred Archbishops, Bishops and Patriarchs. Sinibaldo who assumed the tiara in 1242 under the title of Innocent IV, was an illustrious Pontiff. Frederick II, who had found in him when cardinal a warm ally, proved the strength of his hostility when he became Pope. The Emperor shut up the Pope in the castle of Sutri in 1244 and the Genoese sent twenty two galleys to raise the siege and rescue the pontiff. Innocent accompanied his deliverers to Genoa and from here travelled by the mountain road of Varazze to the castle of Stella, of which Jacopo Grillo (an accomplished troubadour) was lord, and remained there for forty days. A fountain from which he was wont to slake his thirst is still called Fontana Del Papa. From Stella he journeyed by way of Acqui to Lyons, where he summoned a general council and excommunicated Frederick, his son Corrado and his followers and partisans the Duke of Bavaria and Ezzelino.

The Emperor to avenge this affront, captured and destroyed the castles of the Fieschi in Liguria. The Pope, to rebuild and secure a home wasted by many invasions, formed the magnificent scheme of surrounding Genoa with walls and converting it into a refuge for the Guelph party. He selected for his own residence the convent of S. Domenico, which had been the church of St. Egidius (having been donated to that patriarch in 1220.) The Ghibellines, learning the Pope’s design, raised a tumult and prevented the erection on that site of the palace which afterwards adorned the summit of Carignano.

Ottobuono, son of Tedisio, followed Innocent in the papal dignity and took the name of Hadrian V. As legate of Urban IV, he had conducted with success some difficult political negotiations. In the Council of Lyons and in his embassies to Germany and Spain, the superiority of his mind had given him a foremost place. When he ascended the pontifical throne, he curbed the insolence of Charles of Anjou who was abusing his office as Senator of Rome. His reign was short, for as Dante sings,

“Un mese e poco piu provò Come pesa il gran manto”

The great Poet condemns him to the circle of the avaricious in Purgatory, perhaps on account of the vast wealth which he amassed while cardinal, the rental of which exceeded a hundred thousand gold marks.

Luca Fieschi, Cardinal of S. Maria Invialata, was still richer. He, like all the rest of his family, wielded the sword as well as made pastoral addresses. The famous Sciarra Colonna, captured by him at Anagni, had bitter experience of his warlike spirit. This cardinal as legate of Clement V in Italy, accompanied Henry VII in his expedition to our Peninsula in 1311. It was through his influence that Brescia and Piacenza were saved from pillage as a punishment for their revolt. After Henry’s coronation in Rome, the cardinal obtained by a decree, issued at Pisa in 1313, the full confirmation of all his ancient feudal rights. In his will, he ordered that, whoever of his heirs should be patron of the church of S. Adriano in Trigoso should build, on the estates of Benedetta De Marini, a church of equal size and beauty with that in Trigoso, and he bequeathed a large amount of property to be spent in its construction. This is the origin of that Gothic church in Vialata whose sides are covered with alternate slabs of black and white marbles. The word Vialata is not derived from the violets which once blossomed over that height, as some tell us, but from the cardinalate of that temple which the vandals of our time have not yet entirely disfigured. The friends of Luca Fieschi erected an honourable monument to him, in the duomo of Genoa, some remains of which are yet visible on a side door of our cathedral.

Giovanni Fieschi, bishop of Vercelli and Guelph leader was also a military chieftain. In 1371, he marched upon Genoa at the head of eight hundred horse to avenge his family who as rebels had been dispossessed of the castle of Roccatagliata by the Republic. He waged a long war with the Visconti. They had robbed him of Vercelli, but he reacquired this feud by subsequent treaty. He obtained from the Pope the temporal sovereignty of that city; and Boniface IX and his successors invested him with Montecapelli, Masserano and Crevacore. After his death, Vercelli passed into the hands of his nephew Gianello, of good fame both as a cardinal and warrior. It was by his influence and that of Giacomo Fieschi, Archbishop of Genoa, that the Republic undertook to rescue Urban IX when he was besieged in Nocera di Puglia. Nor were Guglielmo and Alberto Fieschi without military celebrity. They conquered the kingdom of Naples for their uncle Innocent IV. Not less warlike were Emanuele and Giovanni Fieschi, who as bishops and lords governed Biella in the middle of the fourteenth century. Giovanni, however, had the misfortune to incur the displeasure of his people, was driven from power, and ended his days in prison, 1377. The civil life of Genoa for many centuries was a succession of political revolutions. The leading spirits were always the Fieschi and Grimaldi, Guelphs, and the Spinola and Doria, partisans of the Empire. Carlo Fieschi was certainly a turbulent spirit and a promoter of discord. In order to remove from power the opposite party, he handed the Republic over to Robert of Naples, and Francesco Fieschi attempted to give Genoa to his son-in-law the marquis of Monferrato. Francesco had fought as Guelph general against Opizzino Spinola and the marquis of Monferrato had given him valuable aid in the campaign which he successfully closed by burning Busalla and desolating the Spinola estates.

But Francesco exercised the rights acquired by conquest with a moderation unusual in those times; and he committed the government of the city to sixteen citizens.

For the rest, the Fieschi though sometimes turbulent and dangerous to the peace of the city, never laid violent hands on the liberties of the Republic. Their struggles aimed to emancipate the city from the influence and control of the imperial party, and they always faithfully served those to whom they offered their arms.

It is fitting to enumerate among the heroes of this noble line a Giacomo Fieschi whom St. Louis created a grand marshal of France as a reward for many distinguished services. Innocent IV. invested this Giacomo with the kingdom of Naples and it is probable that Charles V alluded to this fact when, writing to Sinibaldo Fieschi, he declared him descended from the loins of kings. Nor can we omit Giovanni Fieschi who, in 1337 governed the province of Milan and fell bravely in battle; nor Danielo and Luca Fieschi who served as Florentine generals. It was this Luca who in 1406 conquered Pisa.

The Fieschi race is not famous alone for its men; its women have been distinguished for purity of life and force of character, a few, unfortunately, for vicious practices. We pass by Alassina, wife of Moruello Malaspina whom Dante, after having lived in her court, praised for her virtues. We know little else of her career. We pass Virginia, daughter of Ettore Fieschi and wife of the Prince of Piombino, a wise and virtuous matron; and also Jacopina who after the death of her first husband, Nino Scoto, married Obizzo da Este.

Alconata, or according to others Gianetta Fieschi, daughter of Carlo and wife of Pietro de Rossi, lord of Parma, was notorious for lascivious manners, and a still more infamous celebrity attaches to the name of Isabella Fieschi, wife of Lucchino Visconti. The Milanese Chroniclers tell us that Fosca (an epithet given to Isabella) obtained permission from her husband to attend the naval tournament held in Venice at the feast of the ascension in 1347. Magnificent preparations were made in Lodi for the journey of the duchess. She selected for her cortège the flower of the Lombard knights and ladies. It is said that every dame was accompanied by her admirer. Isabella was received at Mantua with distinguished courtesy by Ugolino Gonzaga whom she made happy by her embraces. On her arrival in Venice she abandoned herself to the arms of Doge Dandolo and the most elegant and accomplished gentleman of that republican court. The dames of her cortège, as usually happens, followed the example and imitated the gallantries of their mistress.

The fame of these amours reached Milan, where after the return of the party, the dames one after another confessed their errors. No husband was more deeply wounded than Lucchino, and he resolved to avenge his dishonour in the blood of Fosca. The unscrupulous Genoese dame, on learning the intention of her outraged lord, frustrated it by administering to him, according to tradition, a slow poison. Isabella was the most beautiful woman of her time; she had a numerous family which she confessed on her death bed to have been the fruit of her intrigues with Galeazzo, nephew of Lucchino, who was a brave and accomplished knight.

The daughter of Giacomo Fieschi and Francesca di Negro made ample amends for the licentiousness of these members of her family. We speak of that Catherine whom the church has glorified as a saint. She was beautiful in person, simple in her tastes and pure in her life. From her earliest years she avowed her desire to take the veil; but, constrained by her parents, she married Giuliano Adorno, a man addicted to every species and degree of vice. The virtues and prayers of Catherine, whose pure spirit above all earthly aims looked steadfastly towards heavenly things, were powerful enough to draw him back to the paths of virtue.

She was a miracle of love and wisdom. She wrote learned works, especially a treatise upon Purgatory, which received the encomiums of Cardinal Bellarmino, of the doctors of the Sorbonne and of the first philosophers and critics of that period (1510.)

Her relative and disciple, Tomasina Fieschi, imitated the devotional spirit of the sainted Catherine. Nor was she less charming in person nor less gifted in literary talents; but her manuscripts are unfortunately lost and time has destroyed all but the sweet perfume of her virtues.

In the beginning of the thirteenth century, the counts of Fieschi separated into two branches, that of Savignone of which we do not purpose to write, and that of Torriglia. Both however continued to call themselves counts of Lavagna, in memory of their origin.

At this early period they were followers of the imperial party and they received from Frederic, as his feudatories, the armorial bearing of three azure bars on a silver field. But when Frederic quarrelled with the Holy See the Counts embraced the Papal side and became leaders of the Guelph party. Then they placed the cat (gatto) over their crests in honour of the Bavarian family, head of the Guelph faction in Germany, which probably gave us the name. Later, they wrote under the cat “sedens ago” a symbol, says Federigo, of that wisdom which produces by force of intellect rather than of hand. The Torriglia branch used sometimes to place a dragon upon their helmets; but the cat, as more ancient, was the true armorial bearing of the family.

The Lords of Este and Monferrato, the Gonzaga, Visconti Orsini, Sanseverini, Sanvitali, Caretto, Pallavicini and Rossi took their spouses from the Fieschi family, and received feuds, estates, and burghs as dowries. The most illustrious families of Italy coveted alliance with their blood. Even the counts of Savoy intermarried with them and in this way acquired large possessions in Piedemont. Innocent IV. married his niece Beatrice to count Tomaso of Savoy, and gave as dower the castles of Rivoli and Viana, together with the valley of Sesia. In 1259 count Tomaso was created by Innocent gonfaloniere of the church; and Ottobuono Fieschi liberated from prison in Asti Amedeo, Tomaso and Ludovico, sons of Tomaso.

They were not less generous and distinguished at home. About the year 1286, they erected a large tower and a castle at the gate of Sant’Andrea. In times equally remote, Opizzo Fieschi built for his residence a marble palace on the piazza of the duomo, enriching it with statutes, decorations, and precious vessels. This palace served afterwards for the council chamber of the Podesta, until Boccanegra took possession of it. Innocent IV. was born there. They built several other palaces in the city, which enjoyed full immunity; neither the sheriff nor his officers could cross their thresholds to serve writs or capture those who had taken refuge within them. The greater part of their palaces were destroyed in the rage of civil war. The one which Carlo Fieschi fortified near the church of S. Donato was ruined in 1393, and a year later that of cardinal Giacomo Fieschi, one of the most sumptuous in Italy, shared the same fate.

They did not content themselves with adorning Genoa with palaces. The convents of Servi, S. Leonardo, and S. Francesco bear witness to their public spirit, not to mention the many hospitals, churches, and other public edifices with which they enriched the Eastern Riviera. These public charities were at various times rewarded with dignities and privileges, especially by a decree that the first-born of the count of Lavagna should sit in the council chamber above the elders and next to the Doge. The office of doge, denied by law to the nobles until 1528, the Fieschi, in the height of their power, conferred upon their adherents, and in peaceful times they were by this means masters of the Republic. There is no instance in which a Fieschi, in any revolution, attempted to grasp at supreme power, or lay violent hands on popular liberty.

Gianluigi II. was no exception to this rule. He purchased from Corrado Doria the feud of Loano, and was ambitious of becoming master of Pisa. When the Pisans asked as a favour to be incorporated into the Republic of Genoa, Gianluigi, as a means to his private ambition, discouraged his fellow-citizens from accepting the gift. The Genoese were so enraged at discovering the motives and intrigues of Fieschi, that a year after they excluded the nobles from office, took possession of the Fieschi castles, and elected eight tribunes of the people as heads of the government. Louis XII., instigated by the nobility, punished this plebeian audacity by restoring the Fieschi to their ancient dominions, and assigning them the government of all Eastern Liguria. At that time the king visited Genoa, and lodged in the Fieschi palace in Carignano, where, perhaps in the festal rejoicings, he encountered that Tomasina Spinola, who, according to the chronicles of the period, was so smitten with his personal charms, that she died soon after of her unhappy love.