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Chapter 41

CHAPTER IV

The count's successes--The Venetians come to terms with him--Views
of the Venetians--Indignation of the Milanese against the count--
Their ambassador's address to him--The count's moderation and
reply--The count and the Milanese prepare for war--Milanese
ambassadors at Venice--League of the Venetians and Milanese--The
count dupes the Venetians and Milanese--He applies for assistance
to the Florentines--Diversity of opinions in Florence on the
subject--Neri di Gino Capponi averse to assisting the count--Cosmo
de' Medici disposed to do so--The Florentines sent ambassadors to
the count.

After this victory, the count marched into the Brescian territory,
occupied the whole country, and then pitched his camp within two miles
of the city. The Venetians, having well-grounded fears that Brescia
would be next attacked, provided the best defense in their power. They
then collected the relics of their army, and, by virtue of the treaty,
demanded assistance of the Florentines; who, being relieved from the
war with Alfonso, sent them one thousand foot and two thousand horse,
by whose aid the Venetians were in a condition to treat for peace. At
one time it seemed the fate of their republic to lose by war and win
by negotiation; for what was taken from them in battle was frequently
restored twofold on the restoration of peace. They knew the Milanese
were jealous of the count, and that he wished to be not their captain
merely, but their sovereign; and as it was in their power to make
peace with either of the two (the one desiring it from ambition, the
other from fear), they determined to make choice of the count, and
offer him assistance to effect his design; persuading themselves, that
as the Milanese would perceive they had been duped by him, they would
in revenge place themselves in the power of any one rather than in
his; and that, becoming unable either to defend themselves or trust
the count, they would be compelled, having no other resource, to fall
into their hands. Having taken this resolution, they sounded the
count, and found him quite disposed for peace, evidently desirous that
the honor and advantage of the victory at Caravaggio should be his
own, and not accrue to the Milanese. The parties therefore entered
into an agreement, in which the Venetians undertook to pay the count
thirteen thousand florins per month, till he should obtain Milan, and
to furnish him, during the continuance of the war, four thousand horse
and two thousand foot. The count engaged to restore to the Venetians
the towns, prisoners, and whatever else had been taken by him during
the late campaigns, and content himself with those territories which
the duke possessed at the time of his death.

When this treaty became known at Milan, it grieved the citizens more
than the victory at Caravaggio had exhilarated them. The rulers of the
city mourned, the people complained, women and children wept, and all
exclaimed against the count as false and perfidious. Although they
could not hope that either prayers or promises would divert him from
his ungrateful design, they sent ambassadors to see with what kind of
color he would invest his unprincipled proceedings, and being admitted
to his presence, one of them spoke to the following effect;--"It is
customary with those who wish to obtain a favor, to make use either of
prayers, presents, or threats, that pity, convenience, or fear, may
induce a compliance with their requests. But as with cruel,
avaricious, or, in their own conceit, powerful men, these arguments
have no weight, it is vain to hope, either to soften them by prayers,
win them by presents, or alarm them by menaces. We, therefore, being
now, though late, aware of thy pride, cruelty, and ambition, come
hither, not to ask aught, nor with the hope, even if we were so
disposed, of obtaining it, but to remind thee of the benefits thou
hast received from the people of Milan, and to prove with what
heartless ingratitude thou hast repaid them, that at least, under the
many evils oppressing us, we may derive some gratification from
telling thee how and by whom they have been produced. Thou canst not
have forgotten thy wretched condition at the death of the duke
Filippo; the king and the pope were both thine enemies; thou hadst
abandoned the Florentines and the Venetians, who, on account of their
just indignation, and because they stood in no further need of thee,
were almost become thy declared enemies. Thou wert exhausted by thy
wars against the church; with few followers, no friends, or any money;
hopeless of being able to preserve either thy territories or thy
reputation. From these circumstances thy ruin must have ensued, but
for our simplicity; we received thee to our home, actuated by
reverence for the happy memory of our duke, with whom, being connected
by marriage and renewed alliance, we believed thy affection would
descend to those who had inherited his authority, and that, if to the
benefits he had conferred on thee, our own were added, the friendship
we sought to establish would not only be firm, but inseparable; with
this impression, we added Verona or Brescia to thy previous
appointments. What more could we either give or promise thee? What
else couldst thou, not from us merely, but from any others, have
either had or expected? Thou receivedst from us an unhoped-for
benefit, and we, in return, an unmerited wrong. Neither hast thou
deferred until now the manifestation of thy base designs; for no
sooner wert thou appointed to command our armies, than, contrary to
every dictate of propriety, thou didst accept Pavia, which plainly
showed what was to be the result of thy friendship; but we bore with
the injury, in hope that the greatness of the advantage would satisfy
thy ambition. Alas! those who grasp at all cannot be satisfied with a
part. Thou didst promise that we should possess the conquests which
thou might afterward make; for thou wert well aware that what was
given at many times might be withdrawn at once, as was the case after
the victory at Caravaggio, purchased by our money and blood, and
followed by our ruin. Oh! unhappy states, which have to guard against
their oppressor; but much more wretched those who have to trust to
mercenary and faithless arms like thine! May our example instruct
posterity, since that of Thebes and Philip of Macedon, who, after
victory over her enemies, from being her captain became her foe and
her prince, could not avail us.

"The only fault of which we are conscious is our over-weening
confidence in one whom we ought not to have trusted; for thy past
life, thy restless mind, incapable of repose, ought to have put us on
our guard; neither ought we to have confided in one who betrayed the
lord of Lucca, set a fine upon the Florentines and the Venetians,
defied the duke, despised the king, and besides all this, persecuted
the church of God, and the Divinity himself with innumerable
atrocities. We ought not to have fancied that so many potentates
possessed less influence over the mind of Francesco Sforza, than the
Milanese; or that he would preserve unblemished that faith towards us
which he had on so many occasions broken with them. Still this want of
caution in us does not excuse the perfidy in thee; nor can it
obliterate the infamy with which our just complaints will blacken thy
character throughout the world, or prevent the remorse of thy
conscience, when our arms are used for our own destruction; for thou
wilt see that the sufferings due to parricides are fully deserved by
thee. And though ambition should blind thine eyes, the whole world,
witness to thine iniquity, will compel thee to open them; God himself
will unclose them, if perjuries, if violated faith, if treacheries
displease him, and if, as ever, he is still the enemy of the wicked.
Do not, therefore, promise thyself any certainty of victory; for the
just wrath of the Almighty will weigh heavily upon thee; and we are
resolved to lose our liberty only with our lives; but if we found we
could not ultimately defend it, we would submit ourselves to anyone
rather than to thee. And if our sins be so great that in spite of our
utmost resolution, we should still fall into thy hands, be quite
assured, that the sovereignty which is commenced in deceit and
villainy, will terminate either in thyself or thy children with
ignominy and blood."

The count, though not insensible to the just reproaches of the
Milanese, did not exhibit either by words or gestures any unusual
excitement, and replied, that "He willingly attributed to their angry
feelings all the serious charges of their indiscreet harangue; and he
would reply to them in detail, were he in the presence of anyone who
could decide their differences; for it would be evident that he had
not injured the Milanese, but only taken care that they should not
injure him. They well knew how they had proceeded after the victory of
Caravaggio; for, instead of rewarding him with either Verona or
Brescia, they sought peace with the Venetians, that all the blame of
the quarrel might rest on him, themselves obtaining the fruit of
victory, the credit of peace, and all the advantages that could be
derived from the war. It would thus be manifest they had no right to
complain, when he had effected the arrangements which they first
attempted to make; and that if he had deferred to do so a little
longer, he would have had reason to accuse them of the ingratitude
with which they were now charging him. Whether the charge were true or
false, that God, whom they had invoked to avenge their injuries, would
show at the conclusion of the war, and would demonstrate which was
most his friend, and who had most justice on their side."

Upon the departure of the ambassadors, the count determined to attack
the Milanese, who prepared for their defense, and appointed Francesco
and Jacopo Piccinino (attached to their cause, on account of the
ancient feud of the families of Braccio and Sforza) to conduct their
forces in support of liberty; at least till they could deprive the
count of the aid of the Venetians, who they did not think would long
be either friendly or faithful to him. On the other hand, the count,
perfectly aware of this, thought it not imprudent, supposing the
obligation of the treaty insufficient, to bind them by the ties of
interest; and, therefore, in assigning to each their portion of the
enterprise, he consented that the Venetians should attack Crema, and
himself, with the other forces, assail the remainder of the territory.
The advantage of this arrangement kept the Venetians so long in
alliance with the count, that he was enabled to conquer the whole of
the Milanese territory, and to press the city so closely, that the
inhabitants could not provide themselves with necessaries; despairing
of success, they sent envoys to the Venetians to beg they would
compassionate their distress, and, as ought to be the case between
republics, assist them in defense of their liberty against a tyrant,
whom, if once master of their city, they would be unable to restrain;
neither did they think he would be content with the boundaries
assigned him by the treaty, but would expect all the dependencies of
Milan.

The Venetians had not yet taken Crema, and wishing before they changed
sides, to effect this point, they PUBLICLY answered the envoys, that
their engagements with the count prevented them from defending the
Milanese; but SECRETLY, gave them every assurance of their wish to do
so.

The count had approached so near Milan with his forces, that he was
disputing the suburbs with the inhabitants, when the Venetians having
taken Crema, thought they need no longer hesitate to declare in favor
of the Milanese, with whom they made peace and entered into alliance;
among the terms of which was the defense of their liberty unimpaired.
Having come to this agreement, they ordered their forces to withdraw
from the count's camp and to return to the Venetian territory. They
informed him of the peace made with the Milanese, and gave him twenty
days to consider what course he would adopt. He was not surprised at
the step taken by the Venetians, for he had long foreseen it, and
expected its occurrence daily; but when it actually took place, he
could not avoid feeling regret and displeasure similar to what the
Milanese had experienced when he abandoned them. He took two days to
consider the reply he would make to the ambassadors whom the Venetians
had sent to inform him of the treaty, and during this time he
determined to dupe the Venetians, and not abandon his enterprise;
therefore, appearing openly to accept the proposal for peace, he sent
his ambassadors to Venice with full credentials to effect the
ratification, but gave them secret orders not to do so, and with
pretexts or caviling to put it off. To give the Venetians greater
assurance of his sincerity, he made a truce with the Milanese for a
month, withdrew from Milan and divided his forces among the places he
had taken. This course was the occasion of his victory and the ruin of
the Milanese; for the Venetians, confident of peace, were slow in
preparing for war, and the Milanese finding the truce concluded, the
enemy withdrawn, and the Venetians their friends, felt assured that
the count had determined to abandon his design. This idea injured them
in two ways: one, by neglecting to provide for their defense; the
next, that, being seed-time, they sowed a large quantity of grain in
the country which the enemy had evacuated, and thus brought famine
upon themselves. On the other hand, all that was injurious to his
enemies favored the count, and the time gave him opportunity to take
breath and provide himself with assistance.

The Florentines during the war of Lombardy had not declared in favor
of either party, or assisted the count either in defense of the
Milanese or since; for he never having been in need had not pressingly
requested it; and they only sent assistance to the Venetians after the
rout at Caravaggio, in pursuance of the treaty. Count Francesco,
standing now alone, and not knowing to whom else he could apply, was
compelled to request immediate aid of the Florentines, publicly from
the state, and privately from friends, particularly from Cosmo de'
Medici, with whom he had always maintained a steady friendship, and by
whom he had constantly been faithfully advised and liberally
supported. Nor did Cosmo abandon him in his extreme necessity, but
supplied him generously from his own resources, and encouraged him to
prosecute his design. He also wished the city publicly to assist him,
but there were difficulties in the way. Neri di Gino Capponi, one of
the most powerful citizens of Florence, thought it not to the
advantage of the city, that the count should obtain Milan; and was of
opinion that it would be more to the safety of Italy for him to ratify
the peace than pursue the war. In the first place, he apprehended that
the Milanese, through their anger against the count, would surrender
themselves entirely to the Venetians, which would occasion the ruin of
all. Supposing he should occupy Milan, it appeared to him that so
great military superiority, combined with such an extent of territory,
would be dangerous to themselves, and that if as count he was
intolerable, he would become doubly so as duke. He therefore
considered it better for the republic of Florence and for Italy, that
the count should be content with his military reputation, and that
Lombardy should be divided into two republics, which could never be
united to injure others, and separately are unable to do so. To attain
this he saw no better means than to refrain from aiding the count, and
continuing in the former league with the Venetians. These reasonings
were not satisfactory to Cosmo's friends, for they imagined that Neri
had argued thus, not from a conviction of its advantage to the
republic, but to prevent the count, as a friend of Cosmo, from
becoming duke, apprehending that Cosmo would, in consequence of this,
become too powerful.

Cosmo, in reply, pointed out, that to lend assistance to the count
would be highly beneficial both to Italy and the republic; for it was
unwise to imagine the Milanese could preserve their own liberty; for
the nature of their community, their mode of life, and their
hereditary feuds were opposed to every kind of civil government, so
that it was necessary, either that the count should become duke of
Milan, or the Venetians her lords. And surely under such
circumstances, no one could doubt which would be most to their
advantage, to have for their neighbor a powerful friend or a far more
powerful foe. Neither need it be apprehended that the Milanese, while
at war with the count, would submit to the Venetians; for the count
had a stronger party in the city, and the Venetians had not, so that
whenever they were unable to defend themselves as freemen, they would
be more inclined to obey the count than the Venetians.

These diverse views kept the city long in suspense; but at length it
was resolved to send ambassadors to the count to settle the terms of
agreement, with instructions, that if they found him in such a
condition as to give hopes of his ultimate success, they were to close
with him, but, if otherwise, they were to draw out the time in
diplomacy.

Niccolo Machiavelli