milan, lodovico sforza, and taxes -- 2/27/18
Today's selection -- from Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King. In the late 1400s, a vibrant era for Florence, Venice, Rome and Milan -- during the time of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarroti -- the most powerful of the Italian states was Milan. It had been ruled for years by the Visconti and Sforza families, and by the 1490s was governed with an iron hand by Lodovico Sforza. But Lodovico had a problem: France's Louis of Orleans, soon to be the king of France, had designs on Lodovico's holdings. And Lodovico, for his part, had taxed his subjects too heavily.
"At the end of May,  Louis of Orleans, pretender to Lodovico's dukedom, advanced into Milanese territory from his base in Asti. He was at the head of an army of seventy-five hundred men, 'as fine a body of troops ... as ever were seen in the field.' What followed was a triumph even greater than Louis could have imagined. When his soldiers appeared before the walls of the city of Novara [which was under Lodovico's rule], the citizens promptly opened their gates and received their invaders, according to one account, 'with all imaginable demonstrations of joy.' This most dangerous enemy, at the head of a strong army and welcomed by Lodovico's own subjects, was now only twenty-five miles west of Milan.
"Lodovico should have been able to count on help from allies such as the Venetians. By attacking a Milanese possession, Louis risked the wrath of the Holy League. However, Lodovico feared more than the duke of Orleans. He was badly shaken by the actions of the people of Novara. Their loyalty to Lodovico had clearly been eroded by the high taxes and loans they were forced to pay for his extravagant building projects, the huge dowry lavished on the emperor, and the loans and payments to Lodovico's various allies. Dissatisfaction with Lodovico's rule was quickly spreading across the duchy. The people of Pavia -- a city second in importance only to Milan -- appealed to the duke of Orleans to enter their city and deliver them from Lodovico. Meanwhile, if Louis chose to enter Milan, wrote one observer, 'he would have been received with more joy.'
|French troops under Charles VIII entering Florence, Nov. 17 1494, by Francesco Granacci|
"Fear that his own subjects were turning against him caused Lodovico to panic. He immediately left his country home at Vigevano, where he had been prolonging his celebrations, and returned to Milan. In terror of insurrection and reprisals, he locked himself away in the Castello, refusing to see anyone. He even seems to have suffered a stroke. Two friars reported back to their convent in Venice: 'He is in bad health, with one hand paralyzed, they say, and is hated by all the people, and fears they will rise against him.'
"As Lodovico cowered in the Castello, Louis swung south with his army, advancing on the Milanese army's camp at Vigevano. The Milanese soldiers were commanded by a captain loyal to Lodovico, his cousin Galeazzo Sanseverino. However, as Louis's army approached, Sanseverino and his men began preparing for a rapid evacuation. The loss of Vigevano, his birthplace and favorite retreat, would have been a humiliating blow to Lodovico. But Louis evidently determined that discretion was the better part of valor. Rather than attacking Vigevano, he led his forces back toward Novara. At Trecate he was met by some of the 'chief citizens of Milan' who urged him to invade their city. Offering their children as hostages to Louis as tokens of their faith and allegiance, they assured him that he would meet with success in the enterprise. The people of Milan, they declared, both the common people and the nobility alike, 'desired the destruction of the house of Sforza.' "