In the annals of the Genoese Republic there are two prominent characters upon whose relative merits history still hesitates to pronounce its final award. It would be idle to affirm that Andrea Doria and Giauluigi Fieschi will ever exchange places on the historic page, but in justice to the latter, the vast interval that has separated them hitherto is being sensibly, if not rapidly, diminished. In truth, it would be difficult, other things being equal, to assign any satisfactory reason for branding Fiesco as a traitor for attempting to subvert a government which Doria himself had twice overthrown, and then received the appellation of "Father of his Country! It is not surprising, however, when the reward of a faithful historian was, in not a few instances, banishment or assassination, that the earlier Italian annalists who wrote under the colossal shadow of Charles V. should have favored the dominant or imperial faction, or that subsequent writers and encyclopedists should have found it more convenient to follow in the beaten track of their predecessors than to delve amid the dust of musty manuscripts by way of original research.
In forming a just estimate of the characters of Doria and Fiesco, it must be remembered that they fell on evil times. If, as Landor justly observes, no one can be truly noble so long as any one is really base, what shall we say of those who figured historically at the time the sanguinary drama was enacted of which we propose to give a brief and, as far as possible, an impartial account The age of Leo X. and his immediate successors was one of such utter demoralization, politically, socially, and morally, that the combined genius of Raphael, Titian, and Michael Angelo can scarcely redeem it from an inglorious immortality. It was an age in which the political heresies of Machiavel had poisoned the national conscience, and the mischievous tenets of Loyola had corrupted the national heart; when sovereign princes, with the bluest of blood, with a total disregard for meum and tuum, were common highwaymen; when noblemen, who would not have dishonored themselves by attaching their titled signatures to a bill of exchange, amassed immense fortunes by downright piracy; when bishops were sanctimonious brigands; when the Inquisition, with its train of attendant horrors, was the most conclusive of arguments in converting contumacious Protestants or silencing refractory reformers ; and, as the crowning shame of all, when the Vatican, with its sacred associations, was transformed into a spiritual exchange for the sale of indulgences, whereby all these and the whole black catalogue of crimes could be remitted for a given consideration, and the most abandoned criminals could purchase an interest in the kingdom of grace and glory for a stipulated percentage of their ill-gotten gains. Such, if we are to credit the statements of Catholic historians themselves, was the deplorable condition of the Catholic world in general, and the Italian states in particular, during the early part of the sixteenth century, which embraces the tragical episode known as the Fieschi Conspiracy. If the principal actors were not disinterested patriots in the modern acceptation of the phrase, we think it will appear that they measured fully to the standard of morality as prescribed by their political and spiritual guides.
A history of the Dorias would be in good part a history of Genoa. "No modern family," says Celesia, the elegant historian, "can compare in deeds of valor with the heroes of this illustrious house; and among the ancients only the Scipios can equal them." Among the most distinguished of his family was Andrea Doria, the great Italian admiral, who was born at Oneglia, near Savona, in 1466. Though the Dorias from the earliest times had been Ghibellines, or adherents of the emperor, at the age of eighteen he entered the service of the pope, and afterward, with characteristic versatility, that of the Duke of Urbino, King Ferdinand of Naples, and Alphonso II. Then, prompted by devotion, he made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem: In the civil commotions which followed in Genoa he favored the faction of the Fregosi against the Adorni, and during one of the engagements was severely wounded.
But it was in disputing the supremacy of the sea that Doria was destined to win his greenest laurels, and, by a succession of brilliant victories over infidel Turks and Barbary corsairs, acquire a military renown that soon marked him as the greatest admiral of his age.
On the accession of the Adorni to power in Genoa, he deserted the Genoese standards and entered the service of Francis King of France, taking with him the galleys of the republic, which he never restored. Created Admiral of France by the king, and Admiral of the Holy Church by the pope, after subjecting Genoa to French domination by expelling the Adorni, and breaking the imperial power in Italy in the celebrated naval battle off Salerno, he went over with his galleys to the imperial standard. He had previously tendered his sword to the pope, but the emperor having offered him more favorable conditions, together with the sovereignty of Genoa under the protectorate of the empire, he decided to enter the imperial service.
It is difficult to decide what were the real motives of Doria in going over to the imperial party; but whatever they may have been, the results, as the sequel will show, proved prejudicial, if not fatal, to the independence of the Italian states, since this act, by throwing Genoa into the imperial scale, holding as it did the balance of power between France and Spain in the Italian peninsula, made Charles V. undisputed master of Italy.
Shortly afterward, having been created by the emperor his captain-general at sea, Doria entered the port of Genoa with his galleys, and, having expelled the French garrison, took possession of the city without bloodshed, and from thenceforth until the day of his death governed it in the name and for the interest of his imperial master. To his honor be it said, he never attempted - even declined - the sovereignty of his country. He was content with the prerogatives without the symbols of royalty. As prime minister of the emperor in Italy, he was in reality the sovereign, leaving the empty bauble of the ducal crown, as formerly, to the doge.
During the hitherto brilliant career of Doria, honors had fallen thick and fast upon him. Decorated by Francis I with the order of St. Michael, presented by the pope with a velvet cap and a consecrated short sword as a valorous captain and a valiant defender of the Christian faith, together with numerous titles and dignities, statues and inscriptions, he was soon after honored by the emperor with the title of Prince of Melfi, and the ancient order of the Toson d' Oro, or Golden Fleece, and by his countrymen with the more illustrious appellation of the "Father of his Country."
|Sword of Andrea Doria|
On his accession to power Doria at once addressed himself to the task of establishing a stable form of government, by a revision of the constitution, with a view of reconciling the various factions by which the republic was distracted. He soon succeeded in giving the Genoese a strong government, but in so doing destroyed its popular character, and established in its stead an oligarchy of which he himself was the head.
Doria loved his country, and it was doubtless his ambition, not to be a sovereign prince, but the chief of a free and independent commonwealth; but his having favored Spanish predominance in Genoa gave the republic independence only in name, and by paving the way for the Austro-Spanish ascendency in Italy, was the cause, as the sequel proved, of untold misfortunes to the Italian states. He had a great opportunity, and lost it. For had he joined the republican league against Spanish domination, and wielded his potential sword in favor of Italy instead of fighting, it may be unwittingly, in the ranks of her enemies, he might have spared his unhappy country three centuries of tyranny and bloodshed.
In contemplating the career of Doria we are struck with its singular inconsistencies, if not strange contradictions, which it is difficult to reconcile upon any other hypothesis than that he was actuated by personal rather than by patriotic motives. He could be Guelf or Ghibelline, serve pope, king, or emperor, as best suited his interest or policy. With the personal simplicity of a republican, he affected the pomp and pageantry of a sovereign prince. Magnanimous to a foreign foe, he was relentless to a domestic enemy. He marries the niece of one pope, and procures the assassination of the natural son of another, giving his own daughter-in-law in marriage as a reward to the assassin. At one time he besieges the capital of his native country with French soldiers to free her from Spanish rule, and shortly after, when it suited his changing interests, he repeats the experiment with Spanish soldiers to free her from French predominance. At one moment we see him swearing eternal enmity to Spain, and riveting Spanish captives as galley-slaves to the oar for life; at another, captain-general of the emperor and his prime minister in Italy, obeying his behests with an almost filial devotion. Now he is dyeing seas red with the blood of Barbary corsairs for the liberation of Christian slaves, and anon exciting infidel Turks against; Venetian Christians, or in secret accord with the ruthless Barbarossa, or loosing the bonds of the famous pirate Dragut, to become again the terror of the Mediterranean and the scourge of Christendom.
As a man, Doris was affable and courteous, generous and unsuspecting. Fluent in speech, he was charming in conversation. The delight of princes, he was revered by the people. Of a heroic aspect and a martial bearing, he was simple in his attire and temperate in his manner of life. "Eating little and drinking less," he maintained his vigor and activity until he had neared the goal of fourscore and ten. But though parsimonious respecting himself, he was prodigal toward others, and the simplicity of his personal habits contrasted strangely with the splendor of his following and surroundings. His sumptuous palace, embellished by the skill of the most celebrated of Italian painters and sculptors, with its elegant salons, its costly tapestries, and expensive decorations, was celebrated throughout Italy for its more than regal splendor, and became, in fact, a royal hotel, whose princely proprietor kept open court and entertained the sovereigns of Europe with the profuse liberality of an emperor. His galleys, more than twenty in number, were fitted up, if possible, with a still more extravagant and luxurious expenditure. The admiral's flag-ship, with its three-and-thirty standards; its ensigns, or gonfalons, of yellow, white, and crimson damask cunningly embroidered in gold; its superb cabins embellished with exquisite carvings and gildings in arabesque, and draperies of gold and silver cloth; its decks protected with awnings of scarlet velvet, and its crew gayly attired in jackets of crimson damask as a source of constant surprise even to his royal and imperial guests, whom he conveyed so frequently between the Spanish and Italian coasts.
|Conspirators' Banquet - Fieschi Conspiracy|
Such was Andrea Doris, the great Italian admiral, the republican prince, the citizen king, the defender of the Christian faith, and the probable inventor of iron-clads; whose virtues were his own, whose vices belonged, for the most part, to his age and country, and who, despite them all, stands out, after Columbus, the grandest historical figure of the Genoese Republic.
Of a different type altogether was Gianluigi Fieschi, scion of an ancient family scarcely less distinguished than that of the Dorias, upon whose escutcheon the triple tiaras of two pontiffs and four hundred mitres had shed their concentrated lustre; allied by marriage to the most illustrious families of Italy; his father, Sinibaldo, celebrated in song by Ariosto in the "Orlando Furioso," and his mother, Maria della Rovere, the reputed niece of Julius II., the warlike pope.
Had an astrologer stood by with his astrolabe at the hour of his birth, he must have predicted a prosperous future from so auspicious a horoscope.
As the eldest of four sons and one daughter, he inherited the hereditary title as Count of Lavagna, together with the immense estates of his rich and powerful family. Accomplished in every manly and robust exercise, to his tutor, Paul Panza - a man of liberal culture and great integrity of character - he owed much; still more to the influence of his noble and spirited mother, who, after the death of his father until he reached his majority, managed his princely patrimony, at the same time stimulating him to imitate the example of his forefathers, and prove himself worthy of the traditions of his house.
A youth of singular beauty, with pleasing and engaging manners, and a brave though gentle air, as affable in conversation as valiant in arms, with a gay, generous, and sportive disposition, he was the prince of good fellowship, keeping an open house and a free table spread with all the luxuries of the season, entertaining the rich and noble with a princely liberality, relieving the poor and unfortunate with a bountiful hand.
Though the peer of the proudest noble, he placed himself upon an equality with the poorest artisan, so that while he was courted by the nobility, he was idolized by the populace. With a comely person and a well-developed form, as he rode, followed by his valets and esquires, through the narrow and populous streets of Genoa, dressed in a tunic of black velvet, with black velvet cap, from which fluttered a snow-white plume, and mounted upon a spirited bay, caparisoned with orange-colored velvet trimmed with vermilion, with trappings of silver, the people ran out from all sides to see and honor the gallant cavalier who was surnamed, and with reason, the Genoese Alcibiades.
|Death of Gianettino Doria|
As the heir of so illustrious a house, with an annual income of 200,000 scudi, and lord of three-and-thirty castles; besides numberless fiefs and estates, entitled to a seat near the ducal throne, with the titles and privileges of Prince of the Empire, Count of the Sacred Palace, Imperial Counselor and Vicar-General in Italy, it is not surprising that he was eagerly sought in matrimonial alliance by the proudest and most aristocratic families of the Genoese nobility. At the age of twenty-one he married Leonora Cybo, who, to every virtue that may adorn a noble lady, superadded that of high literary culture and poetical genius. Their nuptials were celebrated with unusual splendor; the count's ancestral palace in Vialata - in allusion to which Louis XII, who had once been entertained by the grandfather of Fiesco, was accustomed to say that the houses of the Genoese were by far superior to his own royal palace - resounded again with its old-time gayety and revelry.
It is related that Fiesco had formerly formed an attachment for Ginetta, daughter of Adam Centurione, a Genoese nobleman of great wealth and influence, who lent immense sums of money to sovereign princes and then tore up their royal notes of hand, as if, after all, it were only a bagatelle. At first the suit of Fiesco was favorably entertained, but subsequently Centurione, at the earnest solicitation of Andrea Doria, bestowed his daughter's hand in marriage upon Gianettino Doria, Andrea's adopted son and prospective heir. This collision between the fiery spirits who were destined to play so conspicuous a part in the bloody tragedy that soon followed kindled the first spark that ere long burst into a conflagration. The rival suitors became sworn political foes.
The character of Gianettino, which was in striking contrast with that of Fiesco, doubtless precipitated the crisis. Proud; arrogant, and defiant, with a grim and threatening visage, and a haughty, contemptuous bearing, he was flattered and disliked by the nobles, whom he treated as subjects rather than peers, while he was bated and feared by the plebs, whom he held in disdain and scorned to conciliate. His natural disposition was rather fostered than restrained by his habit of military command. A bold, fiery, and intrepid youth, he had given signal proofs of his valor in more than one hardly contested engagement; and now that he was in command of a score or more of galleys, and heir-apparent to all the dignities, wealth, and power of his uncle Andrea Doria, his haughtiness and arrogance exceeded all bounds. Impatient of legal restraint or civil authority, he rarely entered the city unless at the head of an imposing retinue, or surrounded by a body-guard. Though a simple citizen, he affected upon republican soil the airs and manners of a sovereign prince; while the old Andrea Doria, now enfeebled by age and its attendant infirmities, was either unwilling to perceive or else unable to restrain the haughty, despotic demeanor of his nephew, which was threatening to involve his house in swift and utter ruin.
Such, in imperfect outline, were the three most prominent characters that figured in the ill-starred tragedy of the Fieschi conspiracy.
It would be doing injustice to the memory of Fiesco to infer that the original cause, already alluded to, of his hatred of Gianettino was the sole or principal cause of his conspiring against the government. In fact, the most various motives have been attributed to him, from a disposition to revenge himself upon his former rival for paying court to his wife, to that of aspiring to the "diadem of the doges." Cupidity, thirst of blood, disappointed ambition contemplating the overthrow of the republic, the robbery of the Bank of St. George, the sack of the city, and the complete extermination of the Dorias, up through a graduated scale finally culminates in motives of the purest and most exalted patriotism.
|Death of Gianluigi Fiesco|
sides on that festive occasion. The conspirators, some dressed as mountaineers or otherwise disguised, and some in chains as slaves condemned to the galleys of Fiesco, entered not only by the different gates, but through the subterranean passage that communicated with the Fieschi palace from without the city walls. The greater part, however, were not introduced into the city, but were disposed upon the surrounding heights, ready at a given signal to co-operate with the insurgents within.
Never did the Count of Lavagna appear more jovial than on the very eve of the insurrection. As the fatal hour approached, he became more gay and social, riding, sporting, visiting and entertaining his friends, as if dancing, hunting, and horses were apparently his only care. On the evening preceding the night determined upon for the execution of the plot he visited the Dorias. As the children of Gianettino ran out to meet him on his approach, he took them up in his arms and kissed them, then turned, and with his usual warmth greeted their father, who was standing near in the recess of a window. After some desultory conversation he requested Gianettino that he would instruct his officers not to prevent the departure of the galley which he had fitted out against the Barbary corsairs, and which he intended should set sail that very night for the Levant, adding that if in the din and confusion of getting under way he should hear the discharge of a cannon, he need give himself no uneasiness, as it was simply a signal for the departure of the vessel.
Gianettino having issued the desired order, they both entered the apartment of Doria, who, wrapped in a rich pelisse, was reclining in a great arm-chair, suffering from an attack of the gout or rheumatic fever. At the moment he was engaged in earnest conversation with Figuerroa, legate of the Emperor Charles, who was endeavoring to convince him of the existence of the conspiracy, of his own imminent peril and that of the government. But no sooner had Fiesco crossed the threshold through the parted
As to the real aims of Fiesco in inaugurating a revolution, in the absence of any documentary proof to the contrary, it is but justice to give him the benefit of the doubt sol and conclude that they were not only in harmony with his own professions, but in sympathy with the traditions of his fore fathers, who, as Guelfs, had ever been, since dances the accession of Innocent IV, among the noblest adherents and supporters of popular liberty. His professed object, as will liberate his country from the predominance of the Dorias, oligarchical rule, and Spanish ascendency. This he proposed to accomplish by renewing the friendship of France, without committing the republic again into her power; for France, whatever her ulterior designs, had ever favored popular liberty in Italy, so that the people cried out, "God grant that the good French may come to liberate us from these Spanish miscreants!"
|Escape of Andrea Doria|
In tracing the causes that led to the conspiracy, it will aid us to take a hasty glance at the deplorable condition of Italy in the early part of the sixteenth century, the period just preceding its outbreak. It was an age of conspiracies, and the only wonder is, when we consider the causes, that they were not multiplied a hundredfold. The principal Italian cities were prostrate under a foreign yoke, and Venice only remained as a city of refuge for political exiles. Italy, everywhere overrun by a foreign soldiery, whose stipend was paid by sack and pillage, one horde of invaders only expelled by another, presented the melancholy spectacle of en tire districts, ready to bloom like Eden, reduced by fire and sword to the condition of a desert, without house, or inhabitant, or any living thing. Every conceivable outrage was committed; churches were sacked, cities destroyed; over two hundred thousand persons killed in war; this and sword followed by famine and pestilence, in which perished unnumbered thousands more. Blood cancelled blood. What the battlefield failed to absorb was reserved for the scaffold. In that the midst of this carnival of death, Rome was given over to sack and pillage. Its streets and public squares, encumbered with corpses, and breeding disease, contagion, and death, became the scene of a wild Saturnalia of shameful excess. Drunken soldiers, disguised as bishops and cardinals, paraded the principal thoroughfares in mock religious procession, or trailed their priestly vestments in immodest, lascivious as they rioted in their bacchanalian orgies, while episcopal mitres, metamorphosed into fools caps by swaggering dragoons, excited shortly appear, was to the laughter of pimps and the derision of courtesans.
It is disheartening to reflect that these abominations were committed for the most part by professing Christians. While the Council of Trent was discussing the doctrines of original sin, predestination, and the seven sacraments, Spanish Catholics and German Protestants were vying with each other in outraging every law, both human and divine, while the yoke of the Sultan of Turkey was invoked as preferable to that of the "Sultan of Christianity," and both to the Spanish despot, who dreamed of universal empire.
What was true of the other Italian cities might at any moment become true of Genoa. Already popular liberty was subjected to aristocratic privilege, the government to foreign predominance. Genoa was a republic only in name, and, under the Spanish protectorate, retained only the shadow of its former independence. Andrea Doria was sovereign without the insignia; Gianettino, his adopted son and designated successor, blindly aspired to both, and had vowed, it is affirmed, the death of Fiesco as the greatest obstacle to his obtaining the sovereignty. Then farewell to the last semblance of Genoese liberty and independence! Such was the state of affairs when Fiesco, in response to the popular discontent, took up the common complaint, and planned his fatuous conspiracy.
The time was propitious. Charles V. was fully occupied in the German wars; Genoa was without a doge; the galleys of Doria lay dismantled in the harbor; there were but few regular troops in the city, and many of these devoted to the count; the plebs were eager for revolution; while Doria and the nobles, lulled into a false security, were without the least suspicion. Such was the state of affairs within the city; while without, the conspirators could count upon the co-operation of the King of France, the Duke of Piacenza, and the pope. The pope was bitterly hostile to the Emperor Charles and Andrea Doria, who were inimical to the aggrandizement of the Farnese family, and was actuated no less by a spirit of private revenge than a desire for the public utility. The Duke of Piacenza, on his part, promised to furnish the count, for a stipulated sum, with four galleys, already armed and equipped, three of which, however, he had pledged to the service of the pope for a period of two years, but which his Holiness now offered to release at once in favor of Fiesco.
Once resolved, Fiesco left nothing undone to increase the number of his partisans and insure the final success of the conspiracy. He dispatched a trusty messenger, Cagnino Gonzaga, to Paris, in order to secure the cooperation of the French king, who had made liberal promises of material aid and support, on the sole condition, however, and solemn pledge that the French crown should waive all pretensions prejudicial to the liberties of the republic. Meanwhile he purchases the Farnese galleys, visits his various castles, and spends the summer months in enlisting soldiers and marines, collecting arms, drilling his vassals, strengthening his defenses, and laying in provisions, so as to be able to sustain a long siege if necessary, all under color of fortifying himself against the Duke of Piacenza, who in reality was one of his most active confederates.
And yet all these warlike preparations failed to awaken the suspicions of the government. Thus far Fiesco had kept his own counsels. When the good Panza, his former tutor, suspecting some secret plot, ventured to interrogate him, he replied, impatiently, in the language of Cato: "If I thought that my tunic was conscious of the secrets of my heart, I would cast it at once into the fire."
On his return to the city Fiesco held a secret consultation with his principal accomplices, Verrina, Sacco, and Calcagno, with a view of arranging the details of the conspiracy. Of these three, Verrina was the ruling spirit, whose counsels were in striking contrast with those of the timid Calcagno or avaricious Sacco.
After various plans had been proposed, and rejected as either impracticable or otherwise objectionable, as violating the rights of hospitality or the sanctity of the sanctuary, the 2d of January was at length determined upon as the date for carrying the conspiracy into execution, and the following adopted as the plan: To Cornelius Fieschi, a natural brother of Gianluigi, was assigned the duty of seizing and holding the gate Dell' Arco, so as to secure a safe line of retreat to the count's castles in case of disaster. Jerome Fieschi, with the co-operation of Calcagno, was to invest at a given signal the gate of St. Thomas with its fortifications, and thus isolate and cut off the Dorias from the city. Verrina, after giving the pre-concerted signal, was to advance with the Temperauza to the entrance of the arsenal, so as to blockade and then capture the galleys of Doria, laid up and dismantled in the dock-yard. Thomas Assereto, who, as a recreant naval officer of the government, was in possession of the countersign, was to make an attack upon the arsenal from the laud side, while Scipio Borgognino, with a picked body of arquebusiers in small boats, should make a simultaneous assault upon the water side. The gates and arsenal once in the possession of the conspirators, and the galleys of the Dories manned by their partisans, the various troops of armed men dispersed throughout and around the city were to rendezvous at a given point, and then advance to the assault of the ducal palace, and thus terminate the revolution.
|Fiesco's last visit with his wife|
Orders were accordingly transmitted to the various chiefs to introduce a large number of men into Genoa during the Christmas holidays, which could readily be done without exciting suspicion, as the peasantry were accustomed to flock into the city from all drapery of crimson damask than the old captain, at the sight of a youth so ingenuous and courteous, welcomed him as a son, and then, bending forward; whispered in the ear of the legate, "Fie upon it! Can you read treason in that frank and loyal face!" "Nature," replied the latter, "appears the most tranquil when the tempest is about to break with the greatest violence." And so it was.
After a short interview Fiesco took leave, mounted his spirited genet, and rode hurriedly away, leaving the Spanish legate still in conference with Doria, whom he failed, however, to convince of the impending storm that was about to burst over the devoted city.
After taking his leave of the Dorias, Fiesco had invited a score or more of young noblemen, whose names had recently been registered in the "Golden Book," to a banquet the same evening at his palace in Vialata. This he did with the probable intent of securing their co-operation, or, failing to do so, of detaining them as hostages, and thus securing the adhesion, or at least the neutrality, of the noble families to which they belonged. As the invited guests assembled at the appointed hour in gala dress, what was their surprise, on being ushered into the banqueting hall, to find, instead of a gay and festive assembly, imposing troops of armed wen with bronzed, grim visages, and instead of a table loaded with delicacies or sparkling with wines, to find it bristling with swords and daggers, arquebuses, pikes, and halberds! As the bewildered and terrified noblemen turned first to one and then another, and at length to Fiesco, for an explanation of so extraordinary a procedure, the count, surveying his audience with a restless eye, and striking the naked table a thunderous blow with his mailed hand, delivered a stirring appeal, at once his own justification and defense.
"The occasion by us so ardently desired, young men, has at length arrived; in our hands are the destinies of our coup try, which this very night may be freed from the tyranny of a few and restored to liberty. This is the feast, this the entertainment, to which I have invited you; nor, in truth, will you ever be seated at a more sumptuous banquet. With the concurrence of the empeor (and I have in my hands the poofs of it, with letters, which I will show you, if you so desire), Gianettino Doria, by power and wealth at length raised to such a pitch of audacity as to exceed all bounds, has now for a long time aspired to the sovereignty of Genoa; but since he finds in me an obstacle - in me, who, as he very well knows, will not prove unworthy of my ancestry, well prepared as I am to defend the common safety and our common liberties - day and night he treacherously plots against my life. Several times, but in vain, he has attempted to poison me; now he stealthily seeks to assassinate me. Such being the case, who among you is not inflamed with indignation in seeing the old nobility guilty of such enormities, usurping the highest honors, both public and private, and you held in contempt? And still more bitter and shameful wrongs are reserved for us. If so much is possible now, what will it be when the patricians, with Gianettino at their head, shall have usurped all authority and reduced us to slavery? Will you be vile plebeians? Then encounter like heroes the terrible fate that impends over you, and me, and our common country. I am resolved to slay the intending usurper, and Doria himself, the author of such a plot; to board his galleys, occupy the government palace, and, with the extermination of the few in power, to inaugurate popular liberty. Even if the issue of such an undertaking should become doubtful, I cherish the confident hope that your well-known magnanimity would not leave me alone in the hazardous attempt. But the city is already ours. I have with me three hundred of the bravest warriors. The major part of the soldiers that guard the government palace are in my favor. The guards of the gates are ours, and only await the preconcerted signal. We have a galley riding at anchor in the harbor, manned by a large troop of well-armed veterans, distinguished for their sturdy valor. At least fifteen hundred armed artisans stand ready to follow me. At the early dawn two thousand men from my various castles will make a descent upon the city; as many more from Piacenza will follow in their wake. We are confronted by no enemy; quiet is the night, and everything is propitious. You will not be comrades in the fight, but spectators of the victory. Come, then, to the rescue of the country; be of good courage and buoyant of hope! Since of the glory and honor which we are about to achieve you will be first of all the dispensers, not simply the participants."
As Fiesco closed his animated harangue, the young noblemen, with two exceptions, embraced his cause with enthusiasm, brandishing their daggers in the air, and shouting, "Long live the Fieschi!" But when he laid before them the letter disclosing the secret designs of Gianettino against his life and the liberties of the country, there arose a cry of indignation that blended for a moment with the clangor of arms, and then subsided into a hoarse and half smothered oath for dire and terrible vengeance.
One painful duty remained to Fiesco before setting out on his perilous enterprise. Leonora virtuous as she was beautiful, by the potency of her charms, the fascination of her manner, but most of all by the elevation and native goodness of her character, had obtained an ascendency over the fiery spirit of her husband which he was unwilling to acknowledge, but powerless to resist. Anticipating her opposition to an enterprise so questionable in its character and so fraught with danger and disaster to himself and family, he had studiously endeavored to conceal the nature of his intent until now on the very eve of its bloody execution. But her womanly instinct could not be deceived. The reserved and mysterious air of the count, the inquietude of his manner, which, in spite of an attempt to be unusually gay, he could not entirely conceal, naturally excited her suspicion that something was about to occur of a dark and terrible nature. But when she saw the warlike preparations, and beard the ominous din of arms that everywhere resounded throughout palace and court-yard, and the fearful character of the impending tragedy began to dawn upon her, she was plunged into the most profound and inconsolable grief.
As Fiesco entered the apartment of his wife, and recognized her amid the silence and gloom of her chamber, pallid with grief and paralyzed with terror, with only the venerable Panza and her faithful attendants, who were endeavoring in vain to console her, his resolution for a moment was shaken; but repressing his struggling emotions and approaching her side, he could only say, with a choking, husky voice, "Leonora!" and the mailed warrior wept.
"Luigi!" exclaimed the unhappy woman, raising her head and gazing reproachfully upon her husband -" in God's name, Luigi, by our early love, have compassion upon me! We are still in time. Let us fly to one of our castles; to a desert, if need be. I entreat you do not forget yourself, your family, your country, and your God!"
"Leonora, it is too late. Listen! Perhaps these are my last words. The die is cast. The shades of my forefathers rise up before my eyes day and night, and beckon me on to the liberation of my country."
So saying, he kissed his wife tenderly then hastily tearing himself from her embrace, rushed out of the apartment, as she, uttering a shriek of terror, fell insensible to the floor. It was their last interview.
Re-entering the hall; where the conspirators impatiently awaited him, after ordering some wine and simple refreshments, he distributed the arms and issued his final commands, when the various bands of armed men repaired silently to the several quarters of the city to which they had been respectively assigned, to await the preconcerted signal.
The clock of San Andrea slowly tolled the hour of eleven as the Count of Lavagna, with a chosen troop of soldiers, descended toward the harbor, and quietly took up his position under the cavernous arcades of the Sottoriva, whose sinister shadows completely- concealed them from the observation of the passers-by. The moon, so unfriendly to such an enterprise, had just withdrawn behind a peak of the Apennines. The lights from the windows were fast disappearing, casting the city into profounder shadow, while the deepening silence was only occasionally broken by the bacchanalian chorus of a troop of midnight revelers, or the plaintive solo of some solitary serenader. Suddenly the sky was lit up as with a flash of lightning, and the silence was broken by the report of a cannon in the direction of the harbor, which startled the slumbering city to its feet as it reverberated through the narrow streets, or was re-echoed from the surrounding hills. It was the concerted signal for striking the fearful blow that for months had been impending over the ill-fated city.
At first everything went favorably to the cause of the insurgents. Cornelius Fieschi occupied the gate Dell' Arco, which offered but slight resistance. The fortifications of St. Thomas, commanded by Captain Lercaro, who, according to report, had been charged by Gianettino Doria with the assassination of Fiesco, after a desperate and bloody resistance, were at length carried by assault, and Lercaro, with other officers, taken prisoner. Gianettino Doria, hearing the tumult, and supposing it to arise from an attempted revolt among the galley-slaves, hastened to the fort of St. Thomas, distant but a bow-shot from the palace of the Dorias, with a view of dispatching a detachment of soldiers to suppress the insurrection. As he approached the fortification, accompanied by a single page carrying a flambeau, he was recognized by the insurgents, now in possession of the fort, who, in response to his imperious demand to open the gate, replied with a volley of musketry, and the prospective tyrant was no more.
|Fieschi conspirators as Patron Saints|
Upon the receipt of this intelligence the Doria palace became the scene of the wildest confusion and consternation. Only the old Doria, the octogenarian hero of a hundred battles, so long familiar with the vicissitudes and perils of a soldier's life, retained his calmness and composure. Comprehending at once the nature and magnitude of the danger, and perceiving the hopelessness of resistance, weighed down as he was by age and infirmities, he arose and was hastily dressed, then called for his trusty sword, his companion in so many hard-fought engagements, as if resolved to sell his life as dearly as possible. But soon after, yielding to the entreaties of the princess and his nephews, accompanied by a few faithful adherents, and borne at first upon a palfrey and afterward on a litter, he set out for the castle of Masone.
On the side of the port the insurgents encountered a more determined resistance. Assereto, failing in his attempt, either by treachery or force, to take the arsenal from the land side, was repulsed with great spirit and not without considerable loss. The Temperanza, advancing upon the arsenal, grounded upon a sand bank, and was only got afloat with great difficulty, when Verrina continued his advance with the trireme and three other galleys that had arrived in port during the night. Borgognino, with a picked body of arquebusiers in small boats, after a gallant resistance on the part of the guard, carried the arsenal by assault, then opened the gates to Fiesco, who had directed the attack simultaneously upon the laud side, when both, in conjunction with Verrina, having cut the guard to pieces, boarded the galleys of Doria and the republic, and the day was virtually won.
Meanwhile the whole city was in an uproar. The unsuspecting citizens, aroused from their first deep slumber by the signal-gun of the Temperanza, had hardly rallied from their surprise when the clangor of trumpets, the beating of drums, and the din of arms startled them to their feet, and certified them of their real danger. As the adherents of Fiesco, with the watch-word of Gatto eliberta," rushed through the streets, arousing the people to revolt, amid responsive shouts of "Long live the Fieschi! long live liberty!" the terrified nobility barricaded the massive doors of their stately palaces, and grave senators, who had assembled in hot haste, grew pale with dismay as one messenger after another brought tidings of the rapid and assured success of the insurgents. The insurrection had now become a contagion, with fair prospect of a revolution. Every narrow street or populous vicolo contributed its suddenly improvised quota to mingle in the fight or share in the victory. Silk-weavers, as ready with the sword as the shuttle, shouldered their arquebuses and sallied forth to join in the affray, while armed artisans sprang forth from their subterranean workshops like the teeth of Cadmus from the ground. Wherever a detachment of the Corsican Guards came in collision with a band of conspirators, there was bloody work in the streets.
To add to the general consternation, it is related that a fearful conflagration broke out, either by accident or design, in the most densely populated portion of the city, lighting up the frightful spectacle with a sinister and lurid light as the bells of countless towers sounded out the tocsin of alarm. Women and children, driven by the flames, or seized with superstitious dread as if the day of doom had conic at last, precipitated themselves half naked into the streets that now ran red with commingled fire and blood, beating their foreheads with the palms of their bands, or filling the air with their wild laments or incoherent outcries. The weak and infirm were either trampled underfoot, or, in their desperation, sought refuge amid the falling ruins of their burning homes. Bands of robbers, ever ready to profit by a great calamity, betook themselves to sack and pillage; while on the side of the port, the galley-slaves, taking advantage of the general confusion, were liberating themselves and each other from their chains, howling and blaspheming in the fury of their desperation with a wild and savage outcry that rose above the multitudinous uproar with a most threatening and ominous significance.
Fiesco, realizing the necessity of suppressing the incipient insurrection among the galley-slaves, repaired at once on board the galleys, and passing hurriedly from one to another, finally succeeded in restoring order. Then, manning them with the most faithful of his adherents, he hastened to return to the city, when, just as he was passing from the Capitana to the Padrona, the movable bridge connecting the two galleys gave way, precipitating the unfortunate count into the turbid and slimy waters of the arsenal. Though a bold and skillful swimmer, borne down by the weight of his iron mail, he disappeared in the darkness, and sank like a plummet to the bottom.
The star of Doria was again in the ascendant. Though the insurgents up to this point had been everywhere successful, as the news spread of the death of their idolized leader, they began to waver and fall back, while the Corsican Guards and the adherents of Doria again reared their crests and began to rally from every quarter. The Senate, reassured, dispatched public criers to proclaim the sinister event throughout every quarter of the city. The effect was electric. The insurgents were at once thrown upon the defensive. The reaction was as decided as the first onset had been impetuous, for among the many who were ready to shout for Fiesco, or Doria, or the victor, whoever he might be, deserters on the one side soon became recruits on the other.
Jerome Fieschi, who succeeded to the title and estates of his brother, at once assumed the command. Though equally brave with Gianluigi, he was otherwise ill adapted to bcome the leader of such an enterprise. Instead of attacking the ducal palace as originally proposed, he fell back with a few of his adherents, and began fortifying himself at the gate Dell' Arco. At first he replied haughtily to the messengers dispatched by the Senate with overtures of peace; but at length, yielding to the solicitations of Panza, his old tutor, who tendered him on behalf of the Senate full pardon for himself and his adherents on condition that he would withdraw with his troops from the city, he shortly after retired with his followers to the impregnable defenses of his hereditary castle of Montobbio.
Verrina, who alone of the surviving conspirators possessed the ability to conduct the insurrection to a successful issue, after assuring himself, by means of a diver, of the death of Fiesco, well knowing that, lacking as he did the prestige of a name, he could not maintain his authority in the event of success, he, together with Ottobuono and Fieschi, Sacco, Calcagno, and other insurgent chiefs, put to sea in the Temperanza, and set all sail for France; while the galley-slaves, having freed themselves from their chains, and sacked the rich and superb galleys of Doria and the republic, went aboard of the Capitana with their spoils, and followed their example, heading for Algiers.
Dire was the vengeance of Andrea Doria on his return to the city on the suppression of the insurrection. He at once convened the "most serene Senate," and insisted that it should revoke the decree of pardon granted to Jerome Fieschi and his adherents as an act of clemency conceded under compulsion, declaring that there should be no compact with rebels, who, instead, should be condemned to death, with the confiscation of all their goods and estates. With a vindictive revenge unworthy the great admiral, he demanded that the stately palace of the Fieschi in Vialata should be razed to the ground, and its ruins sown with salt, as if its rich treasures of art had abetted the conspiracy, or its very stones been guilty of high treason.
The compliant Senate; in obedience to the behests of its master, revoked its former decree of pardon in favor of the conspirators; on the plea that it was extorted by violence and not in legal assembly, and instead condemned them as "traitors and enemies of the republic," with the confiscation of all their estates. It further decreed that the family of the Fieschi should be banished perpetually, with the confiscation of their princely revenues and estates, the better part of which was in favor of Doria, in consideration of the loss sustained by the sack of his galleys; that the palace of the Fieschi in Vialata should be demolished, while a defamatory stone was inserted in a wall near the ruins, with a prohibition never again to build upon the spot where once was meditated the "parricide of the republic." Nor did the fiery vengeance of Doria and the imperial party pause here. The body of Fiesco was attached to a stone and cast by night into the sea, as if it were offal. Not only in Genoa, but elsewhere, the palaces and castles of the Fieschi were leveled to the ground. Inscriptions, commemorative tablets, and armorial ensigns were erased, torn down, or cast into the sea, and every monument demolished that could recall the renown of the illustrious family. Still, in the midst of this insane fury, there is yet to be seen (as the altar-piece of a small sepulchral chapel), dimly visible in the shadowy twilight of the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the portraits of Fiesco, Verrina, and Sacco as St. George, St. Lawrence, and St. John the Baptist, the patron saints of Genoa, which to have destroyed would have been a profanity of the very altars.
Meanwhile foreign princes and potentates, enemies as well as friends of Doria, were dispatching him messages of congratulation for his own personal safety, as well as letters of condolence for the death of Gianettino, his heir and successor. Even Paul III., who had favored the conspiracy of Fiesco, and furnished him with galleys to make the attempt, addressed him a brief full of protestations of sympathy and sorrow for the melancholy fate of his nephew. Doria, for the time being, "bit his lips, and was silent;” but when, shortly after, Pierluigi Farnese, a natural son of the pope, was assassinated at his own instigation, with a stroke of vindictive revenge, if not of poetic justice, he took the same brief, and simply changing the names, returned it to his Holiness.
Doria died at the advanced age of ninety-four. The sword of the great admiral still hangs suspended over the high altar of San Matteo, while the shattered torsos of his statue and that of Gianettino, destroyed in the democratic disturbances of 1797, are still shown in the adjoining cloisters.
As to what would have been the probable results if the conspiracy of the Fieschi had proved successful, we have not the space to speak other than to indicate them in briefest outline. Genoa with her naval force held the balance of power between Francis I. and Charles V. in Italy. The transfer of this power, which proved so disastrous to the king in 1528, might have become equally so to the emperor, engaged as he was in the German wars in 1547, while a powerful league, including England, France, Turkey, and Denmark, with several of the Italian states, was forming against him. The success of the conspiracy, by depriving the empire not only of Genoa, but of nearly all of its naval force, might have proved an effectual check to the colossal power of the Emperor Charles, and thereby prevented that ill-starred foreign predominance which, transforming the Italian peninsula into an Austro-Spanish province, plunged Italy for the next three centuries into an abyss of the most abject and deplorable servitude.
Originally published in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine in February of 1878.