Chapter 35




CHAPTER V

Francesco Sforza marches to assist the Venetians, and relieves
Verona--He attempts to relieve Brescia but fails--The Venetians
routed by Piccinino upon the Lake of Garda--Piccinino routed by
Sforza; the method of his escape--Piccinino surprises Verona--
Description of Verona--Recovered by Sforza--The duke of Milan
makes war against the Florentines--Apprehensions of the
Florentines--Cardinal Vitelleschi their enemy.

When their demonstrations of gratitude had subsided, the Venetian
senate, by the aid of Neri di Gino, began to consider the route the
count ought to take, and how to provide him with necessaries. There
were four several roads; one by Ravenna, along the beach, which on
account of its being in many places interrupted by the sea and by
marshes, was not approved. The next was the most direct, but rendered
inconvenient by a tower called the Uccellino, which being held for the
duke, it would be necessary to capture; and to do this, would occupy
more time than could be spared with safety to Verona and Brescia. The
third was by the brink of the lake; but as the Po had overflowed its
banks, to pass in this direction was impossible. The fourth was by the
way of Bologna to Ponte Puledrano, Cento, and Pieve; then between the
Bondeno and the Finale to Ferrara, and thence they might by land or
water enter the Paduan territory, and join the Venetian forces. This
route, though attended with many difficulties, and in some parts
liable to be disputed by the enemy, was chosen as the least
objectionable. The count having received his instructions, commenced
his march, and by exerting the utmost celerity, reached the Paduan
territory on the twentieth of June. The arrival of this distinguished
commander in Lombardy filled Venice and all her dependencies with
hope; for the Venetians, who only an instant before had been in fear
for their very existence, began to contemplate new conquests.

The count, before he made any other attempt, hastened to the relief of
Verona; and to counteract his design, Niccolo led his forces to Soave,
a castle situated between the Vincentino and the Veronese, and
entrenched himself by a ditch that extended from Soave to the marshes
of the Adige. The count, finding his passage by the plain cut off,
resolved to proceed by the mountains, and thus reach Verona, thinking
Niccolo would imagine this way to be so rugged and elevated as to be
impracticable, or if he thought otherwise, he would not be in time to
prevent him; so, with provisions for eight days, he took the mountain
path, and with his forces, arrived in the plain, below Soave. Niccolo
had, even upon this route, erected some bastions for the purpose of
preventing him, but they were insufficient for the purpose; and
finding the enemy had, contrary to his expectations, effected a
passage, to avoid a disadvantageous engagement he crossed to the
opposite side of the Adige, and the count entered Verona without
opposition.

Having happily succeeded in his first project, that of relieving
Verona, the count now endeavored to render a similar service to
Brescia. This city is situated so close to the Lake of Garda, that
although besieged by land, provisions may always be sent into it by
water. On this account the duke had assembled a large force in the
immediate vicinity of the lake, and at the commencement of his
victories occupied all the places which by its means might relieve
Brescia. The Venetians also had galleys upon the lake, but they were
unequal to a contest with those of the duke. The count therefore
deemed it advisable to aid the Venetian fleet with his land forces, by
which means he hoped to obtain without much difficulty those places
which kept Brescia in blockade. He therefore encamped before
Bardolino, a fortress situated upon the lake, trusting that after it
was taken the others would surrender. But fortune opposed this design,
for a great part of his troops fell sick; so, giving up the
enterprise, he went to Zevio, a Veronese castle, in a healthy and
plentiful situation. Niccolo, upon the count's retreat, not to let
slip an opportunity of making himself master of the lake, left his
camp at Vegasio, and with a body of picked men took the way thither,
attacked the Venetian fleet with the utmost impetuosity, and took
nearly the whole of it. By this victory almost all the fortresses upon
the lake fell into his hands.

The Venetians, alarmed at this loss, and fearing that in consequence
of it Brescia would surrender, solicited the count, by letters and
messengers, to go to its relief; and he, perceiving that all hope of
rendering assistance from the lake was cut off, and that to attempt an
approach by land, on account of the ditches, bastions, and other
defenses erected by Niccolo, was marching to certain destruction,
determined that as the passage by the mountains had enabled him to
relieve Verona, it should also contribute to the preservation of
Brescia. Having taken this resolution, the count left Zevio, and by
way of the Val d'Acri went to the Lake of St. Andrea, and thence to
Torboli and Peneda, upon the Lake of Garda. He then proceeded to
Tenna, and besieged the fortress, which it was necessary to occupy
before he could reach Brescia.

Niccolo, on being acquainted with the count's design, led his army to
Peschiera. He then, with the marquis of Mantua and a chosen body of
men, went to meet him, and coming to an engagement, was routed, his
people dispersed, and many of them taken, while others fled to the
fleet, and some to the main body of his army. It was now nightfall,
and Niccolo had escaped to Tenna, but he knew that if he were to
remain there till morning, he must inevitably fall into the enemy's
hands; therefore, to avoid a catastrophe which might be regarded as
almost fatal, he resolved to make a dangerous experiment. Of all his
attendants he had only with him a single servant, a Dutchman, of great
personal strength, and who had always been devotedly attached to him.
Niccolo induced this man to take him upon his shoulders in a sack, as
if he had been carrying property of his master's, and to bear him to a
place of security. The enemy's lines surrounded Tenna, but on account
of the previous day's victory, all was in disorder, and no guard was
kept, so that the Dutchman, disguised as a trooper, passed through
them without any opposition, and brought his master in safety to his
own troops.

Had this victory been as carefully improved as it was fortunately
obtained, Brescia would have derived from it greater relief and the
Venetians more permanent advantage; but they, having thoughtlessly let
it slip, the rejoicings were soon over, and Brescia remained in her
former difficulties. Niccolo, having returned to his forces, resolved
by some extraordinary exertion to cancel the impression of his death,
and deprive the Venetians of the change of relieving Brescia. He was
acquainted with the topography of the citadel of Verona, and had
learned from prisoners whom he had taken, that it was badly guarded,
and might be very easily recovered. He perceived at once that fortune
presented him with an opportunity of regaining the laurels he had
lately lost, and of changing the joy of the enemy for their recent
victory into sorrow for a succeeding disaster. The city of Verona is
situated in Lombardy, at the foot of the mountains which divide Italy
from Germany, so that it occupies part both of hill and plain. The
river Adige rises in the valley of Trento, and entering Italy, does
not immediately traverse the country, but winding to the left, along
the base of the hills, enters Verona, and crosses the city, which it
divides unequally, giving much the larger portion to the plain. On the
mountain side of the river are two fortresses, formidable rather from
their situation than from their actual strength, for being very
elevated they command the whole place. One is called San Piero, the
other San Felice. On the opposite side of the Adige, upon the plain,
with their backs against the city walls, are two other fortresses,
about a mile distant from each other, one called the Old the other the
New Citadel, and a wall extends between them that may be compared to a
bowstring, of which the city wall is the arc. The space comprehended
within this segment is very populous, and is called the Borgo of St.
Zeno. Niccolo Piccinino designed to capture these fortresses and the
Borgo, and he hoped to succeed without much difficulty, as well on
account of the ordinary negligence of the guard, which their recent
successes would probably increase, as because in war no enterprise is
more likely to be successful than one which by the enemy is deemed
impossible. With a body of picked men, and accompanied by the marquis
of Mantua, he proceeded by night to Verona, silently scaled the walls,
and took the New Citadel: then entering the place with his troops, he
forced the gate of S. Antonio, and introduced the whole of his
cavalry. The Venetian garrison of the Old Citadel hearing an uproar,
when the guards of the New were slaughtered, and again when the gate
was forced, being now aware of the presence of enemies, raised an
alarm, and called the people to arms. The citizens awaking in the
utmost confusion, some of the boldest armed and hastened to the
rector's piazza. In the meantime, Niccolo's forces had pillaged the
Borgo of San Zeno; and proceeding onward were ascertained by the
people to be the duke's forces, but being defenseless they advised the
Venetian rectors to take refuge in the fortresses, and thus save
themselves and the place; as it was more advisable to preserve their
lives and so rich a city for better fortune, than by endeavoring to
repel the present evil, encounter certain death, and incur universal
pillage. Upon this the rectors and all the Venetian party, fled to the
fortress of San Felice. Some of the first citizens, anxious to avoid
being plundered by the troops, presented themselves before Niccolo and
the marquis of Mantua, and begged they would rather take possession of
a rich city, with honor to themselves, than of a poor one to their own
disgrace; particularly as they had not induced either the favor of its
former possessors, or the animosity of its present masters, by self-
defense. The marquis and Niccolo encouraged them, and protected their
property to the utmost of their power during such a state of military
license. As they felt sure the count would endeavor to recover the
city, they made every possible exertion to gain possession of the
fortresses, and those they could not seize they cut off from the rest
of the place by ditches and barricades, so that the enemy might be
shut out.

The Count Francesco was with his army at Tenna; and when the report
was first brought to him he refused to credit it; but being assured of
the fact by parties whom it would have been ridiculous to doubt, he
resolved, by the exertion of uncommon celerity, to repair the evil
negligence had occasioned; and though all his officers advised the
abandonment of Verona and Brescia, and a march to Vicenza, lest he
might be besieged by the enemy in his present situation, he refused,
but resolved to attempt the recovery of Verona. During the
consultation, he turned to the Venetian commissaries and to Bernardo
de' Medici, who was there as commissary for the Florentines, and
promised them the recovery of the place if one of the fortresses
should hold out. Having collected his forces, he proceeded with the
utmost speed to Verona. Observing his approach, Niccolo thought he
designed, according to the advice he had received, to go to Vicenza,
but finding him continue to draw near, and taking the direction of San
Felice, he prepared for its defense--though too late; for the
barricades were not completed; his men were dispersed in quest of
plunder, or extorting money from the inhabitants by way of ransom; and
he could not collect them in time to prevent the count's troops from
entering the fortress. They then descended into the city, which they
happily recovered, to Niccolo's disgrace, and with the loss of great
numbers of his men. He himself, with the marquis of Mantua, first took
refuge in the citadel, and thence escaping into the country, fled to
Mantua, where, having assembled the relics of their army, they
hastened to join those who were at the siege of Brescia. Thus in four
days Verona was lost and again recovered from the duke. The count,
after this victory, it being now winter and the weather very severe,
having first with considerable difficulty thrown provisions into
Brescia, went into quarters at Verona, and ordered, that during the
cold season, galleys should be provided at Torboli, that upon the
return of spring, they might be in a condition to proceed vigorously
to effect the permanent relief of Brescia.

The duke, finding the war suspended for a time, the hope he had
entertained of occupying Brescia and Verona annihilated, and the money
and counsels of the Florentines the cause of this, and seeing that
neither the injuries they had received from the Venetians could
alienate them, nor all the promises he had made attach them to
himself, he determined, in order to make them feel more closely the
effects of the course they had adopted, to attack Tuscany; to which he
was strenuously advised by the Florentine exiles and Niccolo. The
latter advocated this from his desire to recover the states of
Braccio, and expel the count from La Marca; the former, from their
wish to return home, and each by suitable arguments endeavored to
induce the duke to follow the plan congenial to their own views.
Niccolo argued that he might be sent into Tuscany, and continue the
siege of Brescia; for he was master of the lake, the fortresses were
well provided, and their officers were qualified to oppose the count
should he undertake any fresh enterprise; which it was not likely he
would do without first relieving Brescia, a thing impossible; and thus
the duke might carry on the war in Tuscany, without giving up his
attempts in Lombardy; intimating that the Florentines would be
compelled, as soon as he entered Tuscany, to recall the count to avoid
complete ruin; and whatever course they took, victory to the duke must
be the result. The exiles affirmed, that if Niccolo with his army were
to approach Florence, the people oppressed with taxes, and wearied out
by the insolence of the great, would most assuredly not oppose him,
and pointed out the facility of reaching Florence; for the way by the
Casentino would be open to them, through the friendship of Rinaldo and
the Count di Poppi; and thus the duke, who was previously inclined to
the attempt, was induced by their joint persuasions to make it. The
Venetians, on the other hand, though the winter was severe,
incessantly urged the count to relieve Brescia with all his forces.
The count questioned the possibility of so doing, and advised them to
wait the return of spring, in the meantime strengthening their fleet
as much as possible, and then assist it both by land and water. This
rendered the Venetians dissatisfied; they were dilatory in furnishing
provisions, and consequently many deserted from their army.

The Florentines, being informed of these transactions, became alarmed,
perceiving the war threatening themselves, and the little progress
made in Lombardy. Nor did the suspicion entertained by them of the
troops of the church give them less uneasiness; not that the pope was
their enemy, but because they saw those forces more under the sway of
the patriarch, who was their greatest foe. Giovanni Vitelleschi of
Corneto was at first apostolic notary, then bishop of Recanati, and
afterward patriarch of Alexandria; but at last, becoming a cardinal,
he was called Cardinal of Florence. He was bold and cunning; and,
having obtained great influence, was appointed to command all the
forces of the church, and conduct all the enterprises of the pontiff,
whether in Tuscany, Romagna, the kingdom of Naples, or in Rome. Hence
he acquired so much power over the pontiff, and the papal troops, that
the former was afraid of commanding him, and the latter obeyed no one
else. The cardinal's presence at Rome, when the report came of
Niccolo's design to march into Tuscany, redoubled the fear of the
Florentines; for, since Rinaldo was expelled, he had become an enemy
of the republic, from finding that the arrangements made by his means
were not only disregarded, but converted to Rinaldo's prejudice, and
caused the laying down of arms, which had given his enemies an
opportunity of banishing him. In consequence of this, the government
thought it would be advisable to restore and indemnify Rinaldo, in
case Niccolo came into Tuscany and were joined by him. Their
apprehensions were increased by their being unable to account for
Niccolo's departure from Lombardy, and his leaving one enterprise
almost completed, to undertake another so entirely doubtful; which
they could not reconcile with their ideas of consistency, except by
supposing some new design had been adopted, or some hidden treachery
intended. They communicated their fears to the pope, who was now
sensible of his error in having endowed the cardinal with too much
authority.



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